Monday, July 4, 2016

Musical Monday - The Egg by William Daniels, Howard Da Silva, and Ken Howard

As today is the Fourth of July, it seems appropriate to pick a song from the 1776 film adaptation, a musical about the creation and signing of the Declaration of Independence. This particular song takes place after the Declaration has been introduced to the Continental Congress, while Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin are taking a moment in the hall to reflect on what it might mean. Of course, they begin debating what bird will be the symbol of the new nation they intend to create, with Jefferson suggesting the dove, Franklin promoting the turkey, and Adams backing the eagle. There is witty banter and good-natured humor here, which is a good thing given the fairly tough sledding that lies ahead in the show as Representative Rutledge from South Carolina centers much of the upcoming debate on the protection of slavery.

Despite being an excellent musical, 1776 is less than historically accurate. Some inaccuracies are minor - Adams and Franklin weren't political enemies, but they weren't friends either, so the relatively warm relationship between the two that is depicted in the play is simply incorrect. Judge Wilson wasn't actually a judge yet, and Cesar Rodney wasn't an old man, although he was dying of cancer. Some inaccuracies are major - the South didn't stage a dramatic walk-out over the alleged anti-slavery paragraph in the Declaration of Independence, and the question of independence didn't hang on deleting it from the Declaration. John Dickinson's objections to the Declaration appear to have been rooted in his Quaker faith, not in a desire to preserve his wealth. And so on. This is not so much a criticism as it is an observation. Drama sometimes requires certain concessions be made in terms of historical accuracy. The play would certainly have been less interesting without the central political conflict at its heart, even if that conflict is technically made up, it certainly reflects the ideological split that would plague the new nation for at least its first century, and whose effects we still feel.

Even with these flaws, 1776 is a fantastic show that captures the spirit of the age it depicts. The fact that it places some sentiments in the mouths of the wrong character, creates composite characters constructed out of multiple historical figures and labels them with a real person's name, or shows characters appearing in Philadelphia who could not possibly have been there (or excludes characters who actually were there) is more or less beside the point. Telling a story of the scale of 1776 in the span of a single musical production requires compromises. What matters in this format is capturing the sense of the story, and this musical does that incredibly well.

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