Guess what soon-to-open Broadway musical revival’s cast members are shown above. Come on—guess!
Why, it’s “1776” of course!
Yes, the 1969 Tony-winning musical is returning to Broadway in a new–ugh!—inclusive and diverse version with apparently no unequivocal men playing the unequivocal Founding Fathers who crafted the Declaration of Independence. The cast is entirely “a racially diverse cast of women, nonbinary and trans actors.” This, one of the co-directors tells the Times, “wakes the language up.” Oh. More quotes from the director:
- “I want the audience to hold that dual reality, of what the founders were, but also a company of actors in 2022, who never would have been allowed inside Independence Hall.”
- When she first read the script, she says she was shocked by the scene where Thomas Jefferson is forced to strike out the condemnation of slavery in order to get the Declaration passed. “I was unaware of that crossing out. How could I not know? That began my journey into the show. I had to reckon with my own experience of American history.”
She means her own ignorance of American history and her biases based on that ignorance. Yes, a show about a complex seminal event in American history is being crafted by people don’t know much about history, as Sam Cooke used to say.
Hey, I hope the show is brilliant and successful; obviously I haven’t seen it. However, the project sure looks like a gimmick to exploit the epic success of Hamilton, which only changed the ethnicity of the Founders, and did so with a coherent purpose. (The fact that the music in “Hamilton” was rap and hip-hop also validated that audacious choice.) How exactly does casting a women as Thomas Jefferson deepen understanding of the founding of America? An actress also plays John Adams: is Abigail a lesbian now? What sense does all of the arguing over slavery make when the Continental Congress is inter-racial?
This stunt certainly appears to be one of the examples of irresponsible non-traditional casting that undermines a show’s coherence and themes without adding anything sufficiently valuable to justify it…except, of course, that the current fad of “diversity, equity and inclusion” is now deemed in the art world to be more important than the art itself. It also is obviously hypocritical: while white actors are being told that they can’t play characters of color—indeed, can’t even voice animated characters of different ethnicities—and while demands from the Left hold that only autistic performers can play autistic characters and Tom Hanks has been bullied into saying that he shouldn’t have portrayed an AIDS victim on screen, an alternate universe “1776” is being presented as a woke spectacular because it intentionally excludes white male actors in a show about white male patriots.
How can this possibly be fair and respectful to the work, and ethically consistent with the intent of the musical’s creators, Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone? Of course, it isn’t. This is a group of political activist artists openly distorting a stage work for their own purposes. (Remember, Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote “Hamilton” to be cast exactly as it was cast.) My standards response to such exercises is “Write your own show!” But they can’t. “I776” is a Broadway classic, so the scheme is to piggy-back on its well-earned reputation and success, and then to render it incoherent in pursuit of diversity.
How could this be allowed? Simple: the estates of the authors allowed it, because the authors’ relatives wanted the money. I bet the licensing fees for “1776” have been falling off in recent years now that the characters’ statues are being torn down, so naturally the lure of a new Broadway production would appeal to money-grubbing family members. An all-female version? Sure—why not? With openly trans and binary Founders too? Hey, show us the money!
As I said, I hope the result is brilliant and illuminating. What I see, however, is a cynical abortion of a classic musical motivated by arrogance, ignorance, and greed.
And diversity, of course.