Ideas don't get much bigger than the nature of democracy or the theory of relativity. But two local theater companies are successfully wrestling those brain-busting subjects into highly enjoyable, stage-sized entertainments.
1776, the seldom-produced 1968 musical by Peter Stone and Sherman Edwards (Spreckels Theatre Company), combines an enormous cast, clever projections and elaborate costumes to tell the surprise-packed story of how America's Declaration of Independence came to be signed. Directed by Larry Williams, the production is magnificent, and the longish tale—just under three hours, with one intermission—rarely loses momentum. That's saying something for a musical boasting a scant baker's dozen songs and a plot in which impassioned political debate carries the bulk of the action.
Jeff Coté plays John Adams, desperate to convince his fellow Continental Congress members to separate from Great Britain. Coté is wonderful, fiery and fun, even if the singing does sometimes get away from him, pitch-wise. Adam's chief supporters are Benjamin Franklin (a delightful Gene Abravaya), the darkly moping Thomas Jefferson (David Strock), and the genial Richard Henry Lee (Steven Kent Barker, shining in one of the show's most infectious songs, "The Lees of Old Virginia").
1776 tells a big, complex story, and it's a massive undertaking for any theater company. Assisted by a large orchestra under the guidance of Lucas Sherman, Spreckels pulls it off beautifully, and with far more grace and polish than the founding fathers showed in bringing our still struggling nation to life.
Rating (out of 5): ★★★★
At Cinnabar Theater, Trevor Allen's One Stone takes on a similarly massive subject—Albert Einstein's development of the theory of relativity—but approaches it on a much smaller scale. Under the inventive direction of Elizabeth Craven, a single actor (Eric Thompson) represents Einstein's brain on a simple stage suggesting a cluttered office. His various discoveries and observations are brought to life by a balletic puppeteer (Sheila Devitt) and an oft-present violinist (Jennifer Cho).
The miraculous thing about One Stone is how emotionally powerful it is. With little in the way of actual plot, Allen's words, Thompson's exuberant performance and the rich, magical puppetry of Devitt, all create a poetic space where Einstein's ideas scamper about like curious children in a playground. One Stone is consistently lovely, excitingly unconventional and thoroughly extraordinary. ★★★★½
'1776' runs through Feb. 26 at Spreckels Performing Arts Center, 5409 Snyder Lane, Rohnert Park. 7707.588.3400. 'One Stone' runs through Feb. 19 at Cinnabar Theater, 3333 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. 707.763.8920.