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Musical Theatre West offers a dazzling production of the classic musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Steven Glaudini and company in 1776
(© Ken Jacques)
As the first "Sit Down John" gloriously fills the Carpenter Center in Long Beach with the sound of a heavenly chorus, it is obvious testosterone will rule the stage in Musical Theatre West's dazzling production of 1776. And that is as it should be in this classic tale of the first Continental Congress and the writing and adoption of the Declaration of Independence.

Director Nick DeGruccio has masterfully mustered his troupe of performers, getting every bit of humor and drama out of Peter Stone's acclaimed book. Even with the outcome preordained, the audience is on the edge of their seats, wondering if our founding fathers will actually declare independence from Great Britain or remain just another colony.

Steven Glaudini heads the cast as John Adams, the agitator from Boston, deftly showing his ardor for independence as well as his reputation for being "obnoxious and disliked." He also displays his softer sides in his letters to his beloved Abigail (Tami Tappan Damiano, giving a full-bodied and angelic-voiced portrayal of the future First Lady).

Steve Vinovich provides the bulk of the show's humor, as well as sage advice, as the lusty rascal Benjamin Franklin, while John Bisom, as Thomas Jefferson, beautifully essays his ardor for both independence and his lovely new bride (a most delightful Jessica Bernard); truly showing that he was both a patriot and a lover.

Andy Umberger delivers a cool, considerate, and controlled performance as John Dickinson, the leading loyalist in Congress, while Davis Gaines, in glorious voice, has tons of fun as the rambunctious Richard Henry Lee. Other standouts in the large cast are Tom Shelton as John Hancock, Damon Kirsche as Dr. Lyman Hall, Jack Messenger as the gravely ill Caesar Rodney, Richard Gould as the rum-soaked Stephen Hopkins, Robert J. Townsend as Edward Rutledge, Michael Kean as a Courier, and Todd Nielsen as the Secretary, who makes the reading of General Washington's dispatches at once despairing and hopeful.

With the rich quality of voices assembled, one wishes Sherman Edwards' score contained more songs, but what he wrote perfectly advance the plot. Audiences will revel in Gaines' spirited romp through "The Lees of Old Virginia," Bernard's saucy "He Plays the Violin," Kean's heartbreaking "Momma Look Sharp,' and Townsend's tour-de-force rendition of "Molasses to Rum." Indeed, the entire score soars under the musical direction of Matthew Smedal and not a note or a word is missed thanks to Julie Ferrin's splendid sound design.