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Cardinal Stage's '1776' declared a success

September 8, 2014

Yes, its ending is as foregone as that of "Titanic." But that doesn't diminish the pleasures of "1776," the Peter Stone/Sherman Edwards musical being given a solid, entertaining revival by Cardinal Stage Company at the Buskirk-Chumley Theatre in Bloomington (Sept. 4-13).

What attracted me to this production was the rare opportunity to see such a large-cast classic done in these parts by a professional company. "1776" isn't a show where doubling up of roles or combining parts is an option. Every continental congressman has a voice and everyone plays a signature part in the action. It's also a show that requires solid acting with long stretches of music-free debate taking place in hot, fly-ridden Philadelphia.

Here, Artistic Director Randy White has attracted such familiar Indiana faces as Rob Johansen (giving dignity and conviction to revolution oppositionist John Dickinson), Adam Crowe (as Maryland's hunger-fueled Samuel Chase), and Mark Goetzinger (managing to be delightfully knowing, randy, and tired as Ben Franklin). They are among those pushed and prodded by annoyance John Adams (Cardinal Associate Artistic Director Mike Price), who saddles himself with the "Twelve Angry Men"-ish task of lining up a unanimous vote to sign the Declaration of Independence.

On opening night, a few of the musical numbers were a tad clunkier and less organic than would be ideal. The music ensemble wasn't quite unified, and the potential showstopper  "The Lees of Old Virginia" clearly suffered from having to be led by a talented-but-not-ideally-cast understudy. But the choral numbers were clear and strong, Kaitlyn Mayse brought a breath of fresh air as Martha Jefferson, and not a word was lost from the singing leads.

Most importantly, the drama was intact. The play builds remarkably to the conclusion we know in advance. And here, abetted by unified direction and acting, Cardinal created a believable world of humanized historical figures somehow finding the wherewithal to commit an act both grand and terrifying.

In case Cardinal isn't on your A&E radar, it's a professional theater company that has grown rapidly over the past seven years. It's been a while since I've seen its work, but I was very impressed with a production of "Inherit the Wind" a few season's back, and word was very positive about its "Les Miserables" last year. Its eclectic range of upcoming productions include "A Streetcar Named Desire," "Shrek," and "Brighton Beach Memoirs."

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