America’s obsession with its own history had already resulted in at least two Broadway musicals based on momentous national events before this show opened at the 46th Street Theatre on 16 March 1969. Exactly 20 years before that, Miss Liberty, with a score by Irving Berlin, concerned itself with the period leading up to the dedication ceremony for the lady with the torch, and, in 1925, songwriters Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, together with librettist Herbert Fields, offered Dearest Enemy, which was ‘inspired’ by the American Revolution. Naturally, with a title like 1776, Peter Stone’s book and Sherman Edwards’ score relates to the culmination of that Revolution - the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Edwards, a newcomer to Broadway, had worked on the project for several years before collaborating with the more experienced Stone on the final draft. It stayed closely to historical fact, both in regard to the dramatic circumstances, and the personalities involved in them. The performances of Howard Da Silva (Benjamin Franklin), William Daniels (John Adams), and Ken Howard (Thomas Jefferson) were particularly applauded. In many ways, the show was more like a straight play - a powerful and emotional piece of theatre. Edwards’ sympathetic, and sometimes poignant score included songs such as ‘Momma Look Sharp’, ‘Cool, Cool Considerate Man’, ‘Sit Down, John’, ‘But Mr. Adams’, ‘The Lees Of Old Virginia’, ‘He Plays The Violin’, ‘Is Anybody There?’, ‘Yours, Yours, Yours!’, ‘Molasses To Rum’, and ‘Till Then’.
The show was acclaimed from the start, and became a tremendous success, running for 1, 217 performances. It won three Tony Award s: for Best Musical, Supporting Actor (Ronald Holgate in the role of Richard Henry Lee) and Director (Peter Hunt). There was a short-lived London production in 1970, and in 1991 the show was revived at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in the USA. Six years later, an acclaimed revival of 1776 opened at the non-profit Roundabout Theatre in New York. Directed by Scott Ellis, and starring Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Brent Spiner (John Adams), Pat Hingle (Benjamin Franklin), Paul Michael Valley (Thomas Jefferson), Michael Cumpsty (John Dickinson), and Gregg Edelman (Edward Rudledge), it subsequently transferred to the commercial sector’s Gershwin Theatre. A 1972 film version retained several members of the Broadway cast, and the laserdisc version contains several items cut from the cinema release.See also Miss Liberty, Irving Berlin, Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Herbert Fields, Dearest Enemy.