More than 230 years ago, on the eve of the birth of the Declaration of Independence, partisan upheavals and heated debates ruled the day. Today, political boxing matches continue to flourish.
It's one reason for the allure of the West Coast premiere of “1776” in The City. The Tony Award-winning musical opens in previews Wednesday at the American Conservatory Theater.
“The musical is even more timely now than it was in the late 1960s, when it was first created,” director Frank Galati says. “We need to tell this story every generation or so to reflect upon our birth as a nation, to remind ourselves of who we are and to think about what makes us a nation with a personality.”
The resurgence of “1776” began as an initiative created by Michael Donald Edwards, the producing artistic director of the Asolo Repertory Theatre in Sarasota, Fla., where the production came back to life last fall under Galati's direction.
Edwards had the idea for a five-year project that would spotlight the great works of American playwrights, something that would also examine the American family, the American identity and, as Galati puts it, “the contrast between our values and conflicting forces.”
“We started with '1776' as a way of looking at America's family tree,” he says.
Debuting in 1969, “1776” was hailed as one of the most breathtaking musicals of its time.
The production — with music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and based on a book by Peter Stone — takes audiences on a suspenseful journey into the first chapter of American history, chronicling the painstaking efforts of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson as they carve out a path to political sea change.
The songs stand out, too. Filled with a deep sense of emotional urgency, “Sit Down, John,” “Momma, Look Sharp” and “He Plays the Violin” are showstoppers.
The film version, which was released several years before the nation's bicentennial, was also a hit, with William Daniels reprising his stage role as Adams.
The new staging includes 15 artists and performers from the Bay Area.
When asked what makes him passionate about the production, Galati is candid.
“I was reading a new book about the Declaration of Independence called 'Summer of Revolution,'” Galati says. “It notes that men of honor, and women of honor, are steadfast in their resolve,” he says. “That there was courage to maintain a position in the face of overwhelming odds — to sign the Declaration of Independence was an act of treason, punishable by death.
“So, one is not just the husband, the father, the quirky individual here,” Galati says. “One is the embodiment of these ideals — the notion of real honor and real virtue.”
IF YOU GO
Presented by the American Conservatory Theater
Where: American Conservatory Theater, 415 Geary St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday opening night; 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays except Sept. 24, 2 p.m. Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays except Sept. 11, 15 and 18; 7 p.m. Sept. 24; closes Oct. 6
Tickets: $25 to $140
Contact: (415) 749-2228, www.act-sf.org