Reviving a declaration en masse

Special to The Times

When in the course of theatrical events it becomes necessary to address topical concerns, consider "1776" at the Crossley Theatre. If present-day parallels are what you seek, the Actors Co-op chamber revival of the 1969 Tony winner about the birth of our nation fits the bill, superbly.

Director Richard Israel, on loan from West Coast Ensemble, treats this unconventional musical as a living diorama (courtesy of Stephen Gifford's elegant set). From the initial tirade by obnoxious, disliked John Adams (Bruce Ladd, never better) to the heart-swelling finale, the essential point soars.

Israel explores Peter Stone's marvelous book with independent brilliance, keeping its forgone conclusion uncertain throughout. Musical director Johanna Kent's players make Sherman Edwards' serviceable songs sound like Philadelphia tavern airs. A. Jeffrey Schoenberg's gorgeous costumes denote class distinctions, beautifully lighted by Lisa D. Katz, and the ubiquitous Cricket S. Myers provides crucial sound effects.

Ladd is ideal as Adams, most moving in psychic conversation with Leslie Spencer Smith's golden-voiced Abigail. Larry Lederman has a field day as Benjamin Franklin, and Ben Hensley's Thomas Jefferson is wonderfully atypical, Jon Stewart with chops. Mark Kinsey Stephenson drawls away with the house as Richard Henry Lee in "The Lees of Old Virginia." Stephen Van Dorn burns it down as Edward Rutledge in "Molasses to Rum." Erika Whalen's fluttery Martha Jefferson, Gary Clemmer's candid John Hancock and Don Robb's peppery Stephen Hopkins crystallize the innate commitment of a sterling ensemble.

Purists may regret the inserted intermission, but it follows two coups. Michael Downing's excellent John Dickinson and his cronies galvanize us at "Cool, Cool Considerate Men," moving from minuet to martial in Allison Bibicoff's choreography. Then, army courier Matt Lutz delivers "Momma Look Sharp" with riveting purity. The lights rise on a tearful audience. Such is the self-evident power of this rousing musical document.

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'1776'

Where: Crossley Theatre, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays, also Feb. 23

Ends: March 16

Price: $34

Contact: (323) 462-8460

Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

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