The Roundabout Theater Company’s revival of 1776 opened to lackluster reviews. Though applying exciting casting with a fully female, transgender and non-binary cast, critics felt the rest of the changes made for this revival, from new arrangements and orchestrations to staging and acting was heavy-handed, muddy, over the top and cartoony. Though select performances and songs stood out and no one begrudged the casting updates in principle, many seemed to be wishing this mounting had been a new diversely cast musical exploring the founding of our country, rather than a heavy-handed reworking of an old musical, revolutionary for its time.
The New York Times Review of 1776
A transformation that’s either wondrous or scandalous, depending on your taste, occurs less than a minute into the Roundabout Theater Company’s otherwise disappointing Broadway revival of “1776.” … Though some will see the casting — which is diverse not just in gender but also in race and ethnicity — as a stunt and a travesty, I’m in the wondrous camp. … But if you are willing to allow yourself a double vision, as the directors Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus clearly hope, you can take independence a step further. … For me, that double vision is the best thing about the production. … That the production is instead so overpumped and overplayed as to be hardly comprehensible is the result of a fundamental misunderstanding of the musical, which is plenty complicated as written. … It does not help that the new arrangements and orchestrations, aiming to refresh the songs’ profiles in the way the casting is meant to refresh the story, merely make them muddy — and make many of the lyrics unintelligible. … Just so, theater makers should have enough faith in the principles of equity and diversity to let them speak for themselves. Are they not, as someone once put it, self-evident?
TimeOut Review of 1776
The American-history musical 1776 is not, in itself, unfamiliar…[y]et the Roundabout’s latest revival of the show doesn’t feel stiff: It infuses this august body of show with a rush of fresh blood. … It is a testament to the strength of Stone’s script—which dominates the stage, uninterrupted by song, for several long stretches—that the many characters emerge with such individual clarity: Their positions and personalities are clearly delineated with remarkable narrative economy. In this respect, the production also benefits from a very fine ensemble cast. … Appropriately hard at the edges, this 1776 is just a bit soft in the middle. … Even so, 1776 succeeds where it counts: It sustains a sense of suspense about events whose outcome we know going in. You leave the production newly amazed by the radical contingency of history as we know it—how close it came to falling out differently, and what it cost to get there—and the prospect feels at once scary and freeing.
Variety Review of 1776
Co-directors Diane Paulus and Jeffrey L. Page apply a bold Brechtian brush to this picture with its casting, staging, musical arrangements and design. Without changing the narrative, it adds layers of context that offer further shadings to the musical, even though at times the results are somewhat crude, clunky or overdone. … Co-director Page also choreographs the movement and dance, making its tableaux very vivant — and then some. This “1776” pulsates with energy, snaps with attitude and enlivens history. … Like “Hamilton,” this “1776” allows audience to witness a history anew through an outsider’s eye, as it reframes the classic Trumbull painting in a different light, from a different angle, and offering a more critical perspective, one that inspires, yes, but one that also continues to haunt in its incompleteness.
New York Post Review of 1776
The script, or book, of the 1969 musical “1776” is a truly remarkable creation…as evidenced by the frustrating new revival of the show that opened Thursday night on Broadway, absolutely ironclad — and able to stand up to pointless, auteurist, burdensome, woke concepts like the one on display at the American Airlines Theatre. The writer’s jokes and taut scenes still play, but only barely. … The story is bogged down by cartoony, dishonest impressions of dudes and lame attempts to jam in additional meaning by giving condescending glances to the audience. Not every directorial decision has to have logic, but Paulus and Page’s casting stunt is not powerfully evocative either, other than contributing a “take that, you classic musical!” ‘tude. Yet it needlessly harms the core aspects of the show at every turn. … The awful orchestrations by John Clancy warp the propulsive, 18th-century soundscape into formless, loud, contemporary pop.