TBT: 1776

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It’s the United States Continental Congress turned into a musical! And as much as I love musicals, 1776 (made in 1972) is frickin’ torture to watch! I might choose waterboarding instead of watching this travesty again. The shitty polyester 18th-century costumes and bad shiny white wigs are one thing, but add in a raft of clunky, utterly unmemorable, barely singable songs, and no real dance numbers (the one “minuet” was cut from the theatrical release), and, well, why is this a musical anyway??? Just go read the Declaration of Independence and be done with it.

But hey, this is the Thursday before our Independence Day holiday so let’s throwback to this miscarriage of political music.

1776 (1772)

John Adams and Benjamin Franklin are gonna force this Declaration of Independence thing through, in a torturous 168 minutes of song.

1776 (1772)

These are the dudes standing in their way.

1776 (1772)

One, singular sensation! Oh, wait, wrong musical.

But first, both Adams and Thomas Jefferson really want to get laid (sadly, not to each other — that would have made this a much more interesting flick). Adams writes his wife, but she tells him, hey bud, I’m not putting out until you send hairpins back home (I kind of love her).

1776 (1772)

Meanwhile, Jefferson gets a booty call from his honey in the scrotum dress. Who, weirdly, Adams and Franklin get all lovey with first.

1776 (1772)

Check out Martha’s bouffant.

1776 (1772)

Many on the interwebs say the violin is his penis. But I’d like to think his skill at playing is an allusion to knowing where her clitoris is. Hey, a girl can dream!

Seriously, this film does make you wonder if America would be celebrating our independence on June 28th if not for all the fucking delays.

1776 (1772)

When they’re not screwing their women (or talking about it), the fellas sometimes consider the business of state.

1776 (1772)

It’s hard to pay attention to the political subtleties with fabrics that loud.

1776 (1772)

And then there’s the (mostly) southern contingent, resplendent in dead-dino weaves and frocks.

1776 (1772)

 

 

Does 1776 make you feel all patriotic?

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About the author

Trystan L. Bass

Twitter Website

A self-described ElderGoth, Trystan has been haunting the internet since the early 1990s. Always passionate about costume, from everyday office wear to outrageous twisted historical creations, she has maintained some of the earliest online costuming-focused resources on the web. When she’s not dressing up in costumes, she can be found traveling the world with her sweetie and, occasionally, Kendra and Sarah. Her costuming and travel adventures are chronicled on her website, TrystanCraft. She also maintains a popular fashion blog, This Is CorpGoth, dedicated to her “office drag.”

61 Responses

  1. toranut97

    I respect everything about your opinion and could not disagree more. I love this musical and always have. . It was a gift during the Bicentennial year (1976 for those keeping score at home) to make the whole process of independence accessible to the average person. Yes, the songs and costumes are cheesy. But the use of actual texts written by the founders (especially John Adams – a largely undiscovered figure in pre-McCullough days) and the powerful letters of Abigail Adams – was so impressive. It is not hip, it does not hate this country – rather, it celebrates it! – and to me, old as I am, it will always be special. But I understand your hatred of its politics and its costumes, and, as I said, I respect your opinions.

    Reply
    • toranut97

      …and in the book of the play, it is mentioned that the stage production deliberately portrayed the Southern and Mid-Atlantic representatives in increasingly light and frillier costumes, then darker and more homespun for the Northerners (like Adams). Just FYI, but you probably knew this.

      Reply
      • Author Jennifer Quail

        My favorite part is where when writing the play, they cut a line about how failure to address slavery now would cause trouble a hundred years hence–from John Adams’s actual letters. They felt they’d get called out for being too unbelievable.

        And honestly, given the overwrought bullshit that is Hamilton, I really can’t see how anyone can have a problem with this bit of fluff. It takes itself seriously (the most pointed and actually-historically-deserved song, “Molasses to Rum”, rightfully doing something most SERIOUS media neglects, calling out the New Englanders on their blatant hypocrisy even if they stop short of mentioning that at the the time slavery was legal in most northern states and one of the splits in Concord between the rebels and loyalists was many rebel militia, like Reverend Emerson, owned slaves while their loyalist neighbors were anti-slavery) but not TOO much.

        Oh, sure, the costumes are dubious at best, but it’s the seventies.

        Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      Mentioning McCullough pretty much nails my problem with 1776 on the head — compared to a non-musical series like John Adams, the history & politics in this are cartoonish & childish. I just can’t take it seriously. Maybe if I’d seen this when it came out (weird that I missed 1776; I’ve seen SO MANY musicals growing up in the ’70s, & didn’t watch this until recently).

      Reply
  2. Susan Pola Staples

    I also loved the musical. I can see what bad meh of the costumes but I believe their costume budget was minimal. I do note that I, too, read that they wanted the Southern Colonies to appear more detailed – French/English court/aristocracy and the Northern colonies more restrained and darker in keeping with their Puritan antecedents .

    I believe the Adams Chronicles aired on Masterpiece the same year also in honour of the Bicentennial.
    You have to love the ‘sit down, John…for God’s sake sit down!’ ‘Turkey-Eagle’ lines..

    Reply
    • Lady Hermina De Pagan

      You have to love the ‘sit down, John…for God’s sake sit down!’ ‘Turkey-Eagle’ lines..

      I love this line and without it we would not have “Sit down John, you fat mother fucker!” from Hamilton. Honestly, 1776 is the musical father of Hamilton. Without one, the other would not exist.

      Reply
      • Susan Pola Staples

        You’re probably correct in connecting the success of Hamilton with 1776. I don’t believe it would have been written, staged to great success without 1776 and John Adams.
        I would really enjoy a Hamilton movie. They did it with Les Miserables, why not Hamilton?

        Reply
        • Lady Hermina De Pagan

          Lin-Manuel Miranda said he would love allow a movie version to be staged but he did not feel qualified to pen the movie adaptation.

          Reply
      • Trystan L. Bass

        “Honestly, 1776 is the musical father of Hamilton.” — I can definitely see that & in the PBS documentary, Hamilton’s American it’s mentioned as well. Doesn’t mean I have to enjoy 1776 tho!

        Reply
  3. Cheryl Washer

    I have such warm memories of this musical. I saw the original Broadway cast in a touring production which came to my home town close in time to the film. This was a town with no museums and very little “culture” at the time! I loved the performance (well, I was15). The costumes were not of prom dress quality as in the film, but looked decent to me (looking back in time after taking courses at Colonial Williamsburg). So, noble effort, lots of fun, and appropriate for the 4th!

    Reply
  4. Jennie Gist

    I have loved, loved, loved 1776 for many years. We often pull it out to watch on the 4th, and our gay expatriate daughter living in London asked for a copy of her own. Love the songs, know all of them and all of the punchlines by heart. William Daniels IS John Adams for me. The costumes reflect the movie standards of 1972. Happy to find kindred spirits in the comments here. The great thing is, it’s a free country so we can all agree to disagree – courteously ;-)

    Reply
  5. Jamie LaMoreaux

    I watch this movie EVERY 4th, I love it so much and it was so very true to the debates. everyone loathed John Adams, they left out the part where they banned him from bringing in a cane. he had a horrible habit of using the cane to smack the bejesus out of those who argued with him. Gov. Morris use to throw him out the window when he was particularly obnoxious. and the southerners STILL wear brighter clothing than the northern states so if anything they were less flamboyant than they could have been. the songs were amusing and well done, and the costumes were well done also. I’m not sure why you despise this show so much, but that is your loss, sadly.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      It’s kind of a myth that John Adams was loathed. His presidency was unsuccessful but he wasn’t personally disliked. The 2008 John Adams miniseries gives a more nuanced look at his life.

      Reply
      • melponeme_k

        The mini series was a travesty that had our greatest forefather portrayed by a Skull and Bones man. A society dedicated to the destruction of this country. Their symbol 322 represents the death of Athens and it’s democracy. You count the years between 322 and 1776.

        Yeah, it’s a long time.

        This film is the real deal even with the silly costumes and the songs built on the actual words of Adams himself.

        Reply
    • Sarah Walsh

      She didn’t just ask him for pins – she asked him for 6,000 BUNDLES of pins – so she could sell them to her fellow pinless ladies and make some serious bank.

      Reply
  6. Mary

    I’m so glad to see 1776 supporters here in the comments. Yes, the costumes aren’t up to snuff, and the hair is poofily 1970s, but this musical has been dear to me ever since I listened to the the recorded soundtrack as a kid. It really got me to dive into and connect with American history (eventually got an MA in colonial history), and my daughter caught the same bug (and was shown 1776 as a small child). I highly respect your expertise and love that you share so much good information on this site. But I’ll have to give 1776 a big “pass” for FrockFlicks standards and let it just be itself and keep its special place in my heart.

    Reply
    • Mary

      Forgot to add – there’s a wonderful interview between William Daniels and Lin Manuel Miranda (https://www.nycitycenter.org/home/blog/march-2016/legacy-of-1776) in which Miranda says: “We don’t have a John Adams in our show, but we can just refer to him, and everyone just pictures you, Mr. Daniels. . . . 1776 created such an iconic, indelible image of Adams that we just know who that is now. It’s also, I think, one of the best books—if not the best—ever written for musical theater, in that you long to see them talk to each other.”

      Reply
  7. Sabrina

    I have always love this musical. Pretty typical, Hollywood costuming but funny as hell.

    Reply
  8. Mary

    Forgot this — there’s a wonderful interview of both William Daniels and Lin Manuel Miranda (https://www.nycitycenter.org/home/blog/march-2016/legacy-of-1776) in which Miranda says:; “We don’t have a John Adams in our show, but we can just refer to him, and everyone just pictures you, Mr. Daniels. . . . 1776 created such an iconic, indelible image of Adams that we just know who that is now. It’s also, I think, one of the best books—if not the best—ever written for musical theater, in that you long to see them talk to each other.”

    Reply
    • Mary

      I sincerely apologize for the multiple posts! Nothing showed up no matter how many times I refreshed, so I thought my computer was having its usual conniptions.

      Reply
  9. Catherine Nielsen

    All I can say, is it does my heart good to read all of these comments. I, too, love the musical, first saw it as a teenager, and it turned me on to really start reading about the history of our founding fathers. As previously pointed out, the lyrics between John and Abigail were based on their real letters. And many of the things said by John about Congress are direct quotes. It wasn’t easy getting the Declaration of Independence passed, and I’ve been a fan of Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson, ever since, and have read everything I could about them because of this musical.

    Reply
  10. Theresa Chedoen

    A few years back, the great Stephen Sondheim appeared in a series of conversations with an interviewer, talking about his work, music, and theater in general. At one point, he took questions from the audience, and someone asked what was his favorite musical. Of course, he mentioned many of the great shows of the past. But then he said that his favorite was “1776.” If it’s good enough for Sondheim….
    The costumes are, of course, all wrong, and the wigs are atrocious. I don’t care. I love this show.

    Reply
    • Mary

      And Lin Manuel Miranda likes it too! In a joint interview with him and William Daniels, Miranda said: “We don’t have a John Adams in our show, but we can just refer to him, and everyone just pictures you, Mr. Daniels. . . . 1776 created such an iconic, indelible image of Adams that we just know who that is now. It’s also, I think, one of the best books—if not the best—ever written for musical theater, in that you long to see them talk to each other. Which almost never happens in a musical. Most musicals, you’re waiting for the next song to start.”

      Reply
  11. Susan Pola Staples

    And ‘Molasses to run to slaves’ made a telling commentary on slavery and the ways slaves were transported here.
    It, ‘Look sharp’ & ‘Is Anybody There’ are so beautifully expressive. ‘Is Anybody There’ also contains quotes from Adam’s letters which express what he believes America can be. How moving.
    And now for something completely…humorous.
    ‘Here’s a Lee, there’s a Lee …exact-a-Lee.’

    Reply
    • Cheryl Washer

      I’ve always thought “Light-Horse” Harry Lee was the solution to problems with things in Virginia, like Lee Highway, named after Robert E. Lee. Just substitute Rev. War Patriots.

      Reply
  12. Yael

    About 20 years ago, I was a techie at our community theatre. 1776 was a show I worked–I was one of the two spotlight operators. So when I think of the musical, I think of that production. “Molasses to Rum” becomes scorching when sung and acted well. And “Momma Look Sharp” can make you cry, ditto. That second song, my instructions were to tighten the spot, slowly, at the halfway mark, until at the very last notes, the singer’s face vanished. Over-much? I guess. But the high school kid singing it had a beautiful voice and it was always a gut punch.

    I have the recording of the Brent Spiner 1776. It’s tricky for me to listen to, though I must admit, I still get chills at the end of “Is Anybody There?”. It’s so simple, yet my goodness, they accepted the risk of death that day, the way their names are read out, the bell tolling. I love it. I wish I could see it again, live. Entirely different experience.

    Reply
    • Eronn

      I had no idea that was Brent Spiner in the New Broadway Cast Recording! I thought he was amazing in it.

      Reply
  13. Donna

    Further proof that dear Trystan and I have very different tastes … I love this musical.

    Reply
  14. LadySlippers

    Thank you ALL for the recommendations! I just put it into my Netflix DVD queue. 💖

    Until then, I’ll know it’s a ‘Love It or Hate It’ kinda production.

    Reply
  15. ladylavinia1932

    Okay . . . yes, the gown worn by Blythe Danner is a bit ridiculous. But I’ve always had a soft spot for “1776”. It’s a lot better than I had originally assumed it would be. I also like the fact that the movie (and stage play) portrayed the Founding Fathers as flawed human beings, instead of flawless statues. And there is one song – “Molasses to Rum”, song by John Cullum of “Northern Exposure” fame – is absolutely powerful.

    Reply
    • Angela

      I was just at the International Thespian Festival in Nebraska last week, and one of the schools did 1776. It was cross-gendered casting (which did not bother me in the least) and although their costuming choices were not to my liking, the performances were outstanding. Two of the most powerful moments in the show were 1) when the young woman of color playing Rutledge positively destroyed us all with her powerful and guy-wrenching rendition of Molasses to rum, and 2) when the young man of color playing Jefferson struck through the slave clause. Beautifully, beautifully performed!

      Reply
  16. ladylavinia1932

    I forgot to add that I find it ironic that Blythe Danner portrayed Martha Jefferson in this movie and Gwyneth Paltrow portrayed her daughter, Martha “Patsy” Jefferson in 1995’s “Jefferson in Paris”.

    Reply
  17. Charity

    I think I watched this back when HBO’s John Adams put me on a Founding Fathers kick — I only saw it once and was rather underwhelmed. I still drag out the Independence Day episode from John Adams every July 4th, though. ;)

    Reply
    • MaryF

      So do I, Charity! The first two episodes of “John Adams” are so incredibly well done. Some of the shots are works of art, and the long nights they spend fighting it out are riveting.

      Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      I want to review that miniseries bec. it’s SO GOOD, but I knew everyone loves 1776 — so I willingly gave y’all some cannon fodder here ;-)

      Reply
  18. Hillary

    My younger brother and I first learned about the American Revolution by watching “1776”. We were shocked when we later discovered that our founding fathers never sang in Congress!

    True, the costumes and hair aren’t the best, but I love the songs and the plot. And who can resist a chorus of “for God’s sake, John, sit down!”?

    Reply
  19. Janet Nickerson

    I saw the film when it was first released; my mother made sure I got to see it. Years ago, I was at a historic event at the Senate House in Kingston, NY. An abridged performance of ‘1776’ was part of the program. It was really hard to keep from shouting ‘SARA’ during ‘The Lees of Old Virginia’!

    Reply
  20. Patricia

    Love this musical. It is very effective in teaching youngsters about the Constitution. and it is a musical, not a documentary.

    Reply
  21. Adina

    I think the consensus here in the comments is “for god’s sake Trystan, sit down.”
    I can ignore a lot of costume sins for the sake of a good sing-along. My mom showed me this movie for the first time when I was 10 years old, and it’s the reason I passed a lot of quizzes in US history.

    Reply
    • Trystan L. Bass

      It’s my blog, & I’m allowed to post what I hate! Besides, when we rave about what we love, nobody comments (see? I have an ulterior motive, this is better for traffic, HAHAHHAHAHA).

      Reply
  22. Gail

    Agree with the posts that feel some love for this musical. You must remember, the movie dates to 1972, the Broadway production years before that. The 70s were not an era where Hollywood still remembered how to make a musical. The movie gets additional kudos for casting Broadway actors in the lead roles (William Daniels, John Cullen … they both had long on-stage careers pre “Kitt” and “Northern Exposure.)

    as to the polyestor gowns and the carpet coats, this was the 1970s. Even Colonial Williamsburg was not interpreting costume properly in the 1970s (I’ve seen the pictures). The Big 4 pattern companies were producing faux colonial ensembles for the bicentennial.

    Another important thing to remember: the song “Mama, Look Sharp” strongly resonated in an era when lives were being lost in the VietNam War. In the right hands, “Molasses to Rum to Slaves” can silence an audience. Sometimes you need to put things into context before you snark.

    And I fondly remember carpooling a bunch of boys, my son included, gleefully singing “Sit Down, John” at 8 am on a Sunday morning as we went to some nerdy event. And my grown-up nerd and I are going to a staged reading/performance of “1776” at 54 Below in NYC on Monday night.

    Reply
  23. Julian

    well it bombed in Australia … both on stage and as a film in the 1970s, can’t even think why they thought that anyone would be engaged enough with the story to want to see it

    Reply
  24. ladyaquanine73551

    So…I wonder what good granola the costume designer was smoking or snorting to come up with some of those crazy outfits. The song-writers certainly were smoking dope while working, you can tell from the lousy music and lyrics. And for the record, from an 18th century point of view, who needs a violin for a phallic symbol when swords and muskets do the trick just as well?

    Reply
    • MoHub

      Robert Burns wrote the following, to the tune of “Greensleeves”:

      Greensleeves and tartan ties
      Mark my true love where she lies.
      I’ll be at her ere she rise,
      My fiddle and I thegither.

      There’s an even dirtier fiddle-as-sex ballad collected by Burns, called “Duncan McLeerie.” It’s very graphic, so I won’t type it here, but it really extends the musical metaphor.

      Reply
  25. Eronn

    I’m not a huge fan of the movie (it just seems kind of dull and lifeless), but I’ve enjoyed the show when I’ve seen it performed live, and the new broadway cast recording was my jam in high school. It felt so much more energetic and fun than the movie.

    Reply
  26. Frannie Germeshausen

    I have to watch at least part of it every year. “Til Then” – they did sign their letters that way. “Will someone open up a window?/Sit down John, for God’s sake John, sit down!”

    Reply
  27. Wendy

    HAIRPINS???????
    “but she tells him, hey bud, I’m not putting out until you send hairpins back home”
    Oh NOES! Frock Flicks needs to turn in her sewing machine. Not HAIRPINS. SEWING PINS!
    And for the record, we are always dropping into spontaneous bouts of “He Plays The Violin” and “Sit Down John” and “Lee’s of Old Virginia”, “Cool Cool Considerate Men”, and “Molasses To Rum”.

    Reply
  28. me

    I’m along with the rest of the folks who merrily sing, “Sit down, Trystan, sit down!” My hubby has introduced me to many wonderful movies, including Young Frankenstein, the Quiet Man, AND 1776. It’s great background music for unpacking a house – and my mental image of John Adams will remain William Daniels – despite the HBO miniseries coming out first. I could see too much of the star in the HBO series, while Daniels seems to lose himself into Adams, if that makes sense? Also, I adore Ben Franklin in this – he seems like a fun-loving, amazing guy when you read biographies; but having him as the snarky sidekick for Daniels’ straight man… classic. The 1970s do show up throughout in hair/makeup/quality of material, but overall this is a REALLY fun look at a turning point.

    Reply
  29. Jenno

    The thing I love best about 1776 is that for all the zaniness of many of the numbers (Sit Down John, The Lees, etc.) the ending is a sobering gut punch. As the actors silently sign the Declaration, a bell tolls and the lights slowly go down, reminding you that to a man, they were committing treason against their king, jeopardizing their lives and livelihoods, and the lives of everyone they loved, because they believed freedom was worth it. Every time I watch, I’m struck by their courage in forging a new nation.

    Reply
  30. Sarah Walsh

    Y’all, I co-produced and performed as Abigail in an ALL-FEMALE production of 1776. All the Founding Fathers and members of Congress, from Franklin to Adams to McNair to the Courier to the Leather Apron were all women, fitted out in breeches and waistcoats and frock coats. And Martha’s and my costumes were incredible too. It was truly epic and fabulous and amazing and I wish you all could’ve seen it!!!

    Reply

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