This weekend, Searcy Summer Dinner Theatre (SSDT), in conjunction with the Harding Theatre Department’s 2014-2015 season, held a special encore performance of its summer musical, “1776”— a deep and revealing show about not only the writing of the Declaration of Independence but also the men who helped to bring it about.
As famed images of the American Revolution began to flash across the back of the set, men in colonial garb filled the stage and began the long but engrossing evening. The musical seamlessly swept audiences from scenes at the Second Continental Congress meetings to private chats between people like John Adams and Benjamin Franklin to romantic moments between Thomas Jefferson and his bride. What seemingly began as a history lesson quickly became a multi-layered tale of the hardships of a new world.
While the audience knows the end of the story from the very beginning of the show, the actors of the SSDT production still managed to keep the entire house on the edge of its seat. With an older, male-dominated cast taking the reigns, the show was driven by seasoned actors like Craig Jones and Jay Niederbrach who played a witty and grandfatherly Benjamin Franklin and a fiercely impassioned John Adams respectively. With many singing trios, witty banter and intense moments, the men of the cast, comprised of both Harding faculty and other community members, certainly proved their acting chops and storytelling abilities.
However, the show had equally impactful moments from its female and student cast members. Ellen Jones and Ashley Lynn both added their songbird voices to the otherwise deep musical tones while sophomore Duncan Michael also stepped up from an otherwise background role to claim his place as the most beloved song of the evening.
In a patriotic swell, as 1776 came to a close and the cast recreated the famous Trumbull painting, the audience was led in an a capella rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner,” forever changing our perception of that fateful July day in 1776.
It is clear, after two consecutive years of successful encore runs of the SSDT musical, that it is a tradition the Harding community greatly enjoys and will continue to support in coming years. With shows like “A Year With Frog and Toad” and “1776 The Musical” leading the helm, Searcy Summer Dinner Theatre has started off strong and shows no signs of slowing down.