Founding Fathers on stage

SV Civic Theater presents award-winning musical

BUILDING A NATION Michael Lund (left) as Thomas Jefferson, Jon Reed as Benjamin Franklin and Peter Mandel as John Adams star in South Valley Civic Theater’s 1776. Photo: Elizabeth Mandel

South Valley Civic Theater last presented the musical 1776, about the politically tricky process of writing the Declaration of Independence, in 2006.

Then came Lin-Manuel Miranda’s huge Broadway hit, Hamilton.

But rather than divert attention from the 1969 musical, with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and book by Peter Stone, Hamilton seems to have sparked more interest in all things Founding Fathers.

“This show was one of Miranda’s inspirations,” said Kathy Tom, who is producing the show as part of SVCT’s 50th anniversary season. “He loved this show. He felt if someone could write about the entire Declaration of Independence, why not about one life?”

1776, which won three Tony Awards, including Best Musical, will open April 26 for a three-weekend run in Morgan Hill. Two performances for area Title I schools are also planned.

Peter Mandel stars as John Adams, Jon Reed as Benjamin Franklin and Michael Lund as Thomas Jefferson. All three appeared in the 2006 production.

“It’s the only show where I’ve felt a chill (of emotion) at the end,” said Reed, who plays Franklin, the most senior of the Founding Fathers at age 70. “So many things during the Revolution that could have gone a little bit differently,” he says, might have led to a different outcome at the Second Continental Congress.

And even knowing how it turned out, audiences sometimes sit on the edge of their seats, said Tom.

For Mandel, Reed and Lund, the passage of more than a decade since the last production has given them a chance to study their characters more thoroughly. Recent biographies of the Founding Fathers have allowed actors to take deeper dives into the Founders’ lives and motivations.

“We all talk about what was the person like,” Lund said.

His character, the red-haired and shy Jefferson, is the most elusive.

“No one’s ever been able to nail that guy down,” he said.

“The other element is, Adams can be played very one-dimensionally,” Mandel said. “The running joke is that Adams was obnoxious and disliked. But he had a very loving relationship with his wife, a very loving relationship with his kids. He’s an interesting person.”

The show is historically instructive, in that it highlights the disagreements, arguments and compromises necessary to the Declaration of Independence, which ultimately was signed by 12 of the 13 colonies (New York abstained).

“They found their way through it,” said Mandel, who sees parallels between the struggles of the Founders and the current political polarization. “Hopefully we can get back to that.”

In fact, when 1776 opened in 1969, the nation was deep in turmoil over the Vietnam War, civil rights, women’s rights and Woodstock.

“It is an amazing musical,” Mendel said. “It’s been one of my favorites since childhood. I think people will come and enjoy it wonderfully.”

1776 runs April 26-May 12 at South Valley Civic Theatre, Morgan Hill Community Playhouse, 17090 Monterey Rd, Morgan Hill. Tickets $16-$25. (408) 842-7469;

Susan Rife
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Lover of arts & books; ukulele learner; therapeutic knitter; long-distance runner. Former Arts and Books Editor at Herald-Tribune.