Why the Broadway musical '1776' is the original 'Hamilton'
The classic musical inspired the modern rap musical and vice versa.
“Sit down, John!” That’s the name of a song from the classic Founding Fathers musical 1776 and a line from the modern Founding Fathers musical Hamilton. But that’s not where the similarities between the two musicals end. If you love Hamilton, then you should head straight over to its forerunner 1776 when it comes back to Broadway this fall.
1776 will be getting a long-awaited Broadway revival at the American Airlines Theatre, beginning September 16. The musical, featuring music and lyrics by Sherman Edwards and a book by Peter Stone, is about the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Like Hamilton, 1776 portrays the Founding Fathers as flawed, hot-blooded people. You might say it’s the original Hamilton, though 1776 focuses on a different aspect of U.S. history that makes it worth seeing even if you've already snagged a Hamilton ticket.
Below, read more about 1776, how it inspired Hamilton, and how Hamilton in turn inspired this new Broadway revival of 1776. Talk about history repeating itself!
The history of 1776
1776 is a musical by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone. It takes place during the Second Continental Congress in 1776, where delegates from the 13 American colonies met to decide if they would declare independence from Great Britain. Future American president John Adams is the main character of 1776, and the musical follows him as he tries to persuade the other delegates to sign the Declaration of Independence. It might sound like a no-brainer now, but it actually took a lot of convicing.
Alexander Hamilton wasn't there for these debates, but Thomas Jefferson was — he's featured in the 1776 musical alongside other notable historical figures like Benjamin Franklin and John Hancock.
1776 was well-received when it first premiered on Broadway in 1969. It won three Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and ran for almost three years on Broadway. It was also adapted in a 1972 musical film. The new revival of 1776 will be the musical’s second Broadway revival; its first was from 1997 to 1998, playing at the now-defunct Criterion Center Stage Right and later moving to the Gershwin Theatre.
How 1776 inspired Hamilton
Fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about the “10 dollar Founding Father” will no doubt enjoy 1776. The Founding Fathers in 1776 may sing their songs instead of rapping them, but both 1776 and Hamilton dramatize American history and breathe new life into people normally only seen in history books.
Said Miranda to Playbill, “1776 certainly paved the way for Hamilton — not just in that it’s about our founders, but also in that it engages fully with their humanity. I think it makes them accessible to us in a very real way.”
Both shows were also invited to play at the White House. In 1970, President Richard Nixon invited the cast of 1776, making it the first Broadway show to be performed there. Then in 2016, the Hamilton cast performed for President Barack Obama in the White House. (Miranda had also previously performed an early version of the song "Alexander Hamilton" for Obama in 2009.)
Plus, Hamilton references 1776 in its score. John Adams doesn't appear in Hamilton, but he is mentioned in the show's second act. In the song “The Adams Administration,” Adams calls Hamilton a “Creole bastard,” and Hamilton responds with, “Sit down John, you fat motherfucker!” It’s a clear reference to the opening song of 1776, "Sit Down, John.”
“The Adams Administration” originally included a full rap diss about Adams that was cut from the show. That cut rap also references Abigail Adams, a key figure in John Adams’s life and a key character in 1776.
How Hamilton inspired the 2022 revival of 1776
When talks came to revive 1776, the show’s director Diane Paulus was inspired by Hamilton. Hamilton casts non-white actors to play the show’s historically white characters, and similarly, the new 1776 also cast its production nontraditionally. The cast of 1776 is made of women, non-binary, and transgender actors playing mostly male characters. (Abigail Adams and Martha Jefferson are the two female characters in the show.) The cast is also more diverse, with a majority of people of color, in contrast with the all-white cast of the 1969 premiere production.
Speaking to the Boston Globe, Crystal Lucas-Perry, who plays John Adams in the revival, said Hamilton made it possible to cast actors who don’t look like the Founding Fathers, to “hold a mirror up to what the world is today,” she says.
Lucas-Perry is Black, and she believes that “there’s something to be gained when we reexamine history in this way, by putting faces and bodies onstage that were not a part of the traditional makeup of this show,” she says. “When we shift the gaze so you see a different perspective, we start to hear things that we didn’t hear before and see things that maybe we didn’t want to see but that have always been in the story from the beginning.”
How the new 1776 improves on the original
It’s not just casting, though. The new revival of 1776 also expands on the original musical.
Said Paulus to the New York Times, “When taking on a revival, I am always interested in how to make the production speak to a contemporary audience, while respecting the authors’ original intentions. 1776 was written in the late ’60s, during the civil rights movement and at the height of the Vietnam War. There is a critique of our country built into the bones of this musical.”
So Paulus and the 1776 team made some updates to the material. In 1776, John Adams and Abigail Adams communicate via letters, with Abigail acting as a cheerleader to her husband. In the revival, the team added a crucial line from one of Abigail’s real-life letters, where she tells John, “remember the ladies” and to “not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.” Like Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton, Abigail was clear that she wants to “include women in the sequel.”
1776 also speaks frankly about slavery; Hamilton was critiqued for this omission. The 1776 song “Molasses and Rum” is about the slave trade. The Founding Fathers also debate on stage whether to include a 168-word clause in the Declaration of Independence that would condemn slavery and blame the British crown for introducing it to the colonies. That clause is removed in order to get the Southern state on board with the Declaration. That moment of unfortunate compromise is given heft and gravity in 1776.
In 1776, Adams calls slavery “an offense against man and God.” When she says those lines as Adams, Lucas-Adams says, “I’m speaking as John Adams for those Africans, but I’m also speaking for myself as Crystal. Every night I say those lines, I’m going to be reaffirming my place not only as a character fighting for the rights of other humans to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, but I’m also going to be cementing my own existence and that of my ancestors into the fabric of this nation.”
What this new revival of 1776 shows is that even from the beginning, the Founders knew that the nation they wanted to create was imperfect, and that a more perfect union laid ahead. And this new revival promises to create a more perfect version of the classic musical.