Hear ye, hear ye! ‘1776’ Opens this Week at Palikū Theatre!
Tom Holowach is the Managing Director of Palikū Theatre.
Palikū Theatre has been transformed into Independence Hall, and the stage is now covered with desks, chairs and quill pens for our production of 1776, a musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. I chose this show because the entire story of the American revolution is not well known by people anymore, and this contentious election year is the perfect time to show people that our independence almost didn’t happen, because our country was similarly split right down the middle. It is not a new condition at all, but the solution then, unlike the gridlock now, was compromise between opposing political camps. 1776 actually manages to create a suspenseful drama out of an event whose historical results are quite well known… not a simple feat!
Producing 1776 is an extremely risky proposition for me, because the show is not well known anymore. It won unexpected Tony Awards in the late 60’s and spawned an epic movie in 1972, but the average person in Hawaii has never heard of it, doesn’t know any of the songs, and will not be the slightest bit interested in it unless they know more about it. People who do know the show have each said to me, “Oh that’s one of my favorite shows. Why don’t they do that more often?” To which I frankly reply, “Because you have to cast 26 middle-aged white guys who can act, sing and dance.” A daunting challenge in any community, but in Hawaii…
The reason I believe that the show has to be cast accurately is because the fulcrum of the conflict between the states is slavery, and it would not be appropriate to portray the delegates with people of color. I’m very happy that Hamilton has aroused the interest of younger generations in Revolutionary America using an entertaining style, but they do need to learn the actual facts, as well. One of the things that always puzzles people the most about the Declaration, is why it didn’t emancipate the slaves right then and there. What almost nobody knows is that Jefferson’s original draft did, and in our show, you get to hear his original wording during the debates within this production (“He has waged cruel war…”). The biggest compromise that was made to finally get it signed, was to remove the written condemnation of that “peculiar” practice. That fact, combined with key underlying questions about state’s rights vs Federal laws, and about whether a congressional representative should do what is right, whether his constituency agrees with that position or not, presents fascinating moral and ethical dilemmas. Click here for an interesting “collaborative” document that I created which compares the final Declaration with Jefferson’s original, where you can easily see the many compromises and deletions.
One unique condition with which I am coping this year is the huge loss of Mr. Ron Bright, the past director of all our musicals. Not only have I had to find an adequate replacement for him (not easy), but I have had to sustain the non-participation of pretty much everyone who usually works on our fall musicals, so that they could give their time to produce a wonderful tribute to him earlier this month at Hawaii Theatre. I have had to assemble a completely new and unique cast and production team for this show, so there has been a lot of pressure. I myself even had to take a part as Dr. Lyman Hall, the delegate from Georgia, who doesn’t enter until Scene 3, so I can work in the Box Office, get the show started, and then go upstairs and put on my (tricorner) acting hat.
Our cast has turned out to be stunningly talented, and this production will carry on the Palikū reputation for quality. I just have to get people here to see it.