“1776,” a bit dated yet very timely, gets a patriotic salute at Rivertown Theaters

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INFO:
“1776”
WHAT: Rivertown Theaters presents the Tony Award-winning musical about the backstory of the Declaration of Independence. A.J. Allegra directs Sherman Edwards music (book by Peter Stone); starring Gary Rucker, David Hoover, Louis Dudoussat and others.
WHEN: Nov. 4-5, 8 p.m.; Nov. 6, 2 p.m.; through Nov. 20
WHERE: Rivertown Theaters for the Performing Arts, 325 Minor St.
TICKETS: $44 adults, $41.90 seniors, $39.80 students
MORE INFO: www.rivertowntheaters.com

There is something grandiose about Rivertown Theaters’ staging of “1776” that goes beyond the obviously calculated timing of its presentation over the course of this presidential election finale. The musical itself, which debuted in 1969, was an ambitious affair, trying to meld politics, policy and poetry long before Aaron Sorkin broke all the rules with TV’s masterful “The West Wing.”

Much as John Adams tries to help herd the cats that were the nation’s first Congress, director A.J. Allegra must herd a cast of characters that must feel distinct, yes, but also, well, entertaining. But because, nearly 50 years since the musical’s premiere, politics as entertainment has taken on a whole new meaning, anyway, so “1776” becomes a whole other challenge.

And with a few curious exceptions — not necessarily the fault of the production — the musical is a smashing success that should be seen before the glow of this fraught election subsides. Intricate, complicated, uncomfortable but filled with pride, music and respect, “1776” restores your faith in musical theater as something more than just a song-and-dance piece of fluff. It’s a testament to this collaboration, ostensibly, of two of the most talented figures in the greater New Orleans theater scene.

Allegra, as artistic director of The NOLA Project, here is in cahoots with Rivertown’s Gary Rucker, the co-artistic director and, in this case, the star of the show in playing John Adams. I have no idea what kind of collaborative spirit was sparked between the two in the production; maybe Rucker just stuck to the production and acting side and left the directing to Allegra. But the final product does indeed feel like a powerhouse team effort.

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“PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV, Ep. 2: A.J. Allegra, Gary Rucker, Jason Brad Berry and Corey Mack

PROMO 11-5-16.pngOur sophomore effort of the radio version of “PopSmart NOLA” on WHIV (102.3 FM) was, if nothing else, a very fun time — an “Outsized Political Discussion” episode with interesting observations, an embarrassing technical difficulty (my bad) and Donald Trump showing up in the most unlikely places (in the conversation).

We welcomed director A.J. Allegra and co-star Gary Rucker of Rivertown Theaters’ current production of “1776” and its relevance heading into Tuesday’s (Nov. 8) elections, investigative journalist Jason Brad Berry of American Zombie, and comedian (and guest co-host) Corey Mack. We also had a chance to hear southwest Louisiana journalist Herman Fuselier read an excerpt from his new book, “Ghosts of Good Times: Louisiana Dance Halls Past and Present” (University of Louisiana at Lafayette Press), a coffee-table book in collaboration with photographer Philip Gould. (My apologies to listeners for the minute-long gap of dead silence, cleaned up here in the edit.)

This week’s playlist:
Tupac Shakur — “Changes”
“1776” soundtrack — “Sit Down John”
“1776” soundtrack — “Piddle Twiddle and Resolve”
Vivaldi — “The Four Seasons”

[Read more: A.J. Allegra’s Top 5 political-themed musicals]

Tune in next Saturday at 3 p.m. for our next episode, in which we examine the Affordable Care Act and its impact on New Orleans musicians and other artists, now that the registration period has opened. Until then, keep following along on Facebook as well as on Instagram (@popsmartnola) and Twitter (@dlsnola504), and please remember to keep the intelligent conversation of New Orleans culture going.