This spring, Encores! is reviving 1776, Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone’s irresistible Tony Award-winning musical about how the founding fathers signed the Declaration of Independence and gave birth to a new nation. To celebrate its return to New York, we brought together two extraordinary men of the theater—both of whom have logged a lot of hours in Revolutionary-era frock coats. William Daniels played John Adams in the original Broadway production of 1776, and Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote and stars in the Broadway juggernaut Hamilton. In a recent phone call, Daniels and Miranda traded thoughts on why 1776 works so brilliantly, how the musical helped shape Hamilton, and what it’s like to perform for a sitting U.S. President.
LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA: Mr. Daniels, I’m talking to you from the lip of the stage of the 46th Street Theatre—
WILLIAM DANIELS: (laughs) Oh, my god.
LM: —where you did 1776, and where we’re doing Hamilton. It’s now the Richard Rodgers. My first question is: which dressing room was yours? Were you stage right?
WD: I think I was. Stage right, with a little door facing the audience.
LM: You either have our stage manager’s office or you have George Washington’s current dressing room.
WD: (laughs) How are you holding up, doing eight a week?
LM: It’s a lot. But, you know…it’s all my fault. I really have no right to complain. I wrote the words that I say, and I gave myself a lot of them.
Benjamin West’s unfinished 1783-1784 painting of the delegations at the Treaty of Paris.
Rose Hovick really did love Chinese food, and Fanny Brice was actually fired from a chorusline after it was discovered that she couldn’t dance. Still, despite the crumbs of truth sprinkled into musicals like Gypsy and Funny Girl, we don’t exactly look to Broadway shows for historical accuracy. 1776 may be unique, then, in that its creators were such devoted sticklers for the truth; composer Sherman Edwards even brought textbooks to rehearsals and handed them out to the cast. When the show’s libretto was published in 1970, Edwards and his librettist Peter Stone wrote a fascinating essay about what is true, what’s almost true, and what was cheerfully invented in 1776. With an Encores! revival on the way, we’re pleased to reprint their essay.
The first question we are asked by those who have seen—or read—1776 is invariably: “Is it true? Did it really happen that way?”
The answer is: Yes.