Instead, this version of the 1969 show features an all-female cast that puts a new spin on an old story, just in time for Independence Day.“I love to take tried-and-true pieces of theater and stand them on their ear so audiences can experience them as new,” said the show’s director, Kymberli Colbourne. “When you hear the words of John Adams coming from a woman actor, you sit up and take notice. It’s very thought provoking.”
The concept of an all female cast for 1776 originated in 2010 in Kansas City, and was a rousing success. This modern take intrigued Producer David Simpson, of Shore Thing Productions, which is producing the show.
The Tower’s 1776 In Concert rendition stays true to the characters, music and message of the original Broadway smash hit, yet the innovative casting and staging provokes a whole new level of engagement with the audience.
In addition to offering a fresh interpretation, the gender reversal has a very practical benefit—more female actors participate in community theater, even though the majority of roles are written for men. So, the all-female approach makes large casts, like the one in 1776, more feasible.
The cast ranges in age from fourteen to seventy, from opera singers to church choir members, some with professional experience, and some amateurs, but all with a passion to create something that resonates with the audience.
Colbourne credits Simpson for the inspiration behind the minimalist staging and costumes. Actors wear simple, modern black clothing, each with one bright accessory to help identify the character. The sets, props and choreography have been greatly pared down as well, creating more of a staged concert than a full-on theatrical period piece—thus the title 1776 In Concert.
Even in the slimmed-down, In Concert version of the original massive 1776 period-piece musical, the production has been no small undertaking: the show encompasses a cast of twenty-four actors, an equal number of musicians in the orchestra and a small army of helpers. Casting the show was a lot like democracy in action, said Colbourne. All those willing to speak up and participate found a place to play a part, whether on stage or behind the scenes.
Once the audience’s attention is diverted from the Founding Fathers’ powdered wigs and tights, which make brilliant men like Ben Franklin look silly, more attention can be paid to the words that defined the struggle for independence. In this streamlined, gender-neutral form, 1776 spotlights the timeless themes that live on in today’s political debates: fair representation, basic rights and responsibilities, and fair taxation.
As Colbourne sees it, this is the story of us as a people.
”We’re in the midst of an election today, deciding the future course of our country. We are still struggling with the same issues,” said Colbourne.
“The diversity of opinion and the need to find consensus have not changed since America found its voice—our messy culture of passionate debate began with the Founding Fathers and is part of our story,” Colbourne explained.
All For a Good Cause
Everyone involved—including Simpson, Colbourne and musical director Tim Russell—has volunteered their time and talents to the production. All profits from the ticket sales go to the Tower Theatre Foundation, which works to bring a variety of performing arts and cultural events to Central Oregon and to keep them accessible to the community.
1776 In Concert is the first of the Tower’s Marquee Series, supported by U.S. Bank and BendBroadband, which brings live productions to the downtown venue.
1776 In Concert
7 pm Friday, June 29, and Saturday, June 30
2 pm Sunday, July 1
Tower Theatre • 835 NW Wall St.
$20. For tickets go to TowerTheatre.org