The names George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson are most commonly heard in history class. These men founded our country, fought for its independence, and protected our freedom, but is it possible for them to have accomplished all these feats while singing? These figures are studied and learned through textbooks and lectures, but would students learn more sang rather than read? Historical plays allow people to learn through song and dance on a stage rather than in a textbook.
This year’s winter musical is “1776,” a story based on the events leading up to and after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The musical focuses on John Adams efforts to persuade the other founding fathers to declare independence from Britain and sign the Declaration. The play will have four performances, one per night on Feb. 3, 4, 10 and 11.
“In historical plays, you get to see what real events may have looked like,” said junior acting student Ben Stormer, who plays Thomas Jefferson. “You get more information when you see it rather than just reading dates and individual achievements.”
In “1776” the stories and relationships between America’s Founding Fathers are depicted. Many of the characters are known for helping in the creation of the United States but how they worked together during its creation is difficult to visualize from reading, Stormer said.
“When you read books, you can’t see how the characters really interact,” Stormer said. “[Musicals] humanize characters, and allow you to see their opinions and their struggles.”
Historical plays like “1776” draw many types of people to the theater, especially those who may not go normally attend plays, said junior acting student Abigail Seevak, who plays John Hancock.
“Plays like this draw people in,” Seevak said. “For people who already like history, it is interesting to them, and even for people who aren’t very interested in history can enjoy learning about an event in history.”
Plays are more enjoyable for some people, and can help people learn more than from just reading, siad junior acting student David Morris, who plays John Adams.
“It can be easier to learn about things in the past if there is a catchy song in your head,” Morris said. “They can be learning without even knowing it.”
The decision to perform “1776” is part of a plan to introduce the actors to a variety of musical styles and genres, Seevak said.
“[Musical director Amy Moorhead] likes to expose us to different types of plays by introducing plays from different time periods and places in the world,” Seevak said.
In recent years, Moorhead and her actors have put on plays including The Cripple of Inishmaan, Legally Blonde, and The Sound of Music.
“These plays help broaden our repratars and increase our knowledge of different kinds of shows,” Seevak said.
Additionally, “1776” is the second musical at PHS to institute gender neutral casting, following The Cripple of the Inishmaan which was performed last fall, Seevak said.
“There are very few guys who do musical theater,” Stormer said. “So allowing the plays to be gender neutral allows more people to get involved and play the roles that would normally go to men.”