Saturday, July 03, 2010

Wild Card Weekend -- 1776

On this Fourth of July weekend, PHS editor Michelle Styles attempts to explain the glory that is 1776

The cast is almost entirely male. The action takes almost entirely in a single chamber. The subject matter – politics, specifically the late 18th century. It is a musical that should never have been. It became a huge hit and was made into a movie. It is still performed across the US today. 1776 – the musical.
The musical tells the story of John Adams’s struggle to get the Declaration of Independence passed. For a number of reasons, it is one of my favourite musicals of all time but it is not your normal light fare. It is full of dry wit and songs which get into your mind.

I first really discovered it in the summer of 1980, having taped it on hot Fourth of July. There was just something about William Daniel’s portrayal of John Adams. He was obnoxious and disliked, did you know that sir? But he was a man willing to fight for his cause. A life long admiration of John Adams and his wife Abigail began. Adams’ relationship with his dearest friend provides the romantic element of the story. The songs between Adams and his wife are taken directly from the letters he and Abigail wrote to each other. Yours, yours, yours and Compliments show the loving relationship they had. I also adored the mini series John Adams but that is a whole other blog!
Equally good to my 16 year old self was that having watched it several times, I found AP US History an absolute doddle. Triangular trade – not a problem with the song Molasses to Rum to Slaves! 1776 also showed the divisions within the Continental Congress were not clear and that men had differing opinions. It also proved a good way of discovering who was who in the American revolution. As my father pointed out, Adams’s nemesis in Congress John Dickinson (Cool Considerate Men is brilliantly song -- orginally at the request of President Nixon, this sequence was cut from the movie but restored on the dvd) may have refused to sign the Declaration but he went and fought for the American cause as a private. He knew full well the meaning of integrity and hold true to one’s principles. Dickinson College is named after him, and he helped to frame the US Constitution with all its checks and balances. And once having gained a reputation for being good at history, I became determined to keep at it and really started reading around the subject.
The song Hey Mama Look Sharp which is about the dispatch rider’s remembrance of the Battle of Lexington and Concord and the death of a close friend shows the poignant horrors of war.
The song Is Anybody There goes through my mind whenever the Crows of Doubt strike. This was particularly true when I was waiting to hear about The Gladiator’s Honour and various people in the know told that it would never happen. It is underrated but it speaks to passion and vision of Adams. It encapsulates for me the importance of believing in dreams, commitment and holding true to your ideals.

The musical also affected my life in another way. I forced my younger sister to watch. Several years later, she fell into a conversation about the musical and how great it was with a man at a party when she visited a friend at UCLA. That man became her husband!
Because I live in the UK and the film has never been released here, it was a long standing joke that they would get me a copy...They sent me a cd of it years ago. The cd is played every Fourth of July. For some reason my husband, a very loyal British subject just doesn’t get it! I think I lost him with the line – And to England I say goodnight for ever good night... Anyway in the interests of good Anglo-American relations, I deemed it politic not to get the dvd and make do with the cd. I play the cd as I am making the various foodstuffs for our annual Fourth of July bash, rather than having it playing during the party.
If you haven't seen it and get a chance, do. It is the perfect fare for a Fourth of July weekend.
Michelle Styles writes historical romance for Harlequin Mills & Boon. You can learn more about her works at her website.


  1. Thanks Michelle - what a shame we can't get it over here. A couple of years ago we lapped up a serial about John Adams but I've never noticed it being repeated. With such rich source material, your musical sounds a winner.
    Happy Fourth of July!

  2. I've never seen this musical or film, but I loved the book, Those Who Love - I cannot remember the author at this moment - which is the story of John Adams and his marriage. Read it in 1968!