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The U.S. origin story — but with music — coming to Westminster stage in ‘1776’

Actors from Players on Air, Inc. rehearse for their production of "1776" which will go onstage March 13-15.
Actors from Players on Air, Inc. rehearse for their production of "1776" which will go onstage March 13-15. (Courtesy Photo)

Before Ireland becomes the focus for next week, a local theater company is setting its sights on the early years of the United States. Players On Air Inc. presents “1776,” a musical set amid the drama and surprising humor of the drafting of the Declaration of Independence.

Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for seniors and students and can be purchased at the door or online through a link at playersonairinc.wixsite.com/theatre. There is an evening show at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 13. There is a 2 p.m. matinee and a 7:30 p.m. evening show in Saturday, March 14. There is a matinee performance at 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, March 15. All shows take place at Crosswind Church, 640 Lucabaugh Mill Road, Westminster.

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In community theater, as a rule, it can be difficult to find male actors, particularly for musical theater. The cast of “1776” has more than 20 male actors. Players on Air reached out across their networks and reached out to actors who were available and willing to fill their cast. One of the last roles was filled just four weeks prior to opening night.

For Adam Yastrzemsky, his casting as John Adams is a dream role. He studied the show while in school and had watched the movie eight or nine times prior to ever picking up the script. “If I ever get the chance to play John Adams, I’m going to jump at it,” he had thought.

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To outsiders, Adams can be an obnoxious “bull in a china shop” in his conviction as he pushes for independence. “He’s the most passionate character I’ve ever played,” Yastrzemsky said. “He just has this deep seated resolve to get what he needs.”

Adam Yastrzemsky, left, as John Adams reacts to David Kaiser, as Edward Rutledge during rehearsal for "1776," running March 13 to 15.
Adam Yastrzemsky, left, as John Adams reacts to David Kaiser, as Edward Rutledge during rehearsal for "1776," running March 13 to 15. (Courtesy Photo)

But his headstrong public nature can be contrasted by the way he talks to his wife, Abigail, played by Jessica Long. Long and Yastrzemsky are not only a couple onstage, but engaged in real life. Yastrzemsky said, “I’m really blessed to be able to act with her in this role." Though their scenes together are still acting, their connection makes them "even more tender.

The cast also includes two father-and-son pairs. In one case, they play Benjamin Franklin and James Wilson, rival delegates on opposite sides of the aisle who come to blows before the end of the proceedings.

To prepare for the show, director and producer Laura Wonsala read biographies of early U.S. figures like the Adamses and Alexander Hamilton. It gave even more texture to the historical drama in the script. But “1776” is a show she grew up with and that helped her learn about Revolutionary-era history.

“One of the things I love is that a lot of the words from the songs are taken from actual letters and notes penned during congress,” she said. The words reach the audience in a memorable way when paired with music.

There are a few discrepancies from historical fact in the script, but both Wonsala and Yastrzemsky said they aren’t glaring and it sticks pretty close to the facts.

Wonsala said that watching, “It really does feel like you’re a part of history. There are those goosebump moments.”

More information about Players on Air, Inc. is available at playersonairinc.wixsite.com/theatre or at @PlayersOnAir on Facebook.

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