1776, Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Apparently the founding family was as dysfunctional as any, if you can believe the steamy squabbles depicted in this gently satirical musical. With a supple script by Peter Stone and serviceable if trivial music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards, this work goes beyond patriotic tableaux in its depiction of the Philadelphia convention that birthed a nation, exposing the human frailties (boozing, factionalism, a preoccupation with sex) behind an epic event shaped as much by personalities as principles. Even though we know the outcome, the countdown to the Fourth of July is admirably suspenseful. Faced with the complexities that knee-jerk patriots prefer to ignore, we see how events could have gone wrong--or did. It's heartbreaking to think that the Civil War might have been prevented, for instance, if Jefferson hadn't forged a compromise with southerners over slavery.

Director Dominic Missimi has assembled a sterling cast. Every moment that isn't splendidly sung is persuasively acted. Fresh from playing the irascible Henry Higgins, Kevin Gudahl blows up another impressive squall as John Adams, whose only quiet moments come in lovely duets with the unimprovable Mary Ernster playing his brilliant spouse, Abigail. Sean Allan Krill delivers a droll Thomas Jefferson trying vainly to declare his own independence from this often infuriating convocation, and Roger Mueller is solid as the conservative but loyal John Dickinson. Wry comic relief is supplied by David Lively as the curmudgeonly Ben Franklin.

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