The first thing you notice about the Naval Academy Glee Club's production of the musical "1776" is a marvelous set that evokes Philadelphia's Independence Hall to a fare-thee-well.
With banners from the original 13 colonies hanging in Mahan Hall, the setting for a musical account of the 2nd Continental Congress' adoption of the Declaration of Independence couldn't be more apt.
The second thing you notice is that stage director Lois Evans and music director Barry Talley have found some very talented Mids and that they populate every corner of the stage.
The "obnoxious and disliked" John Adams of Massachusetts is played with cocky, bantam rooster-like assurance by Nate Daniels.
"I have come to believe," says Adams, "that one useless man is a disgrace, that two are a law firm, and that three or more become a Congress."
Daniels nearly earned himself a standing ovation Saturday with that line alone.
His singing is very strong (if a little out of control in spots), and he interacts beautifully with Nick Trzcinski, who portrays Benjamin Franklin, and with Kevin Chlan, who makes a tall, handsome, articulate Thomas Jefferson.
The chemistry among the three is terrific, as in the hilarious scene where Jefferson's wife arrives in Philadelphia and the long-separated newlyweds emit erotic sparks that stun both of the Virginian's senior colleagues.
Other standout legislators include David Collins as a hyper-enthusiastic Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, Matt Williams as a gluttonous Samuel Chase of Maryland and Jeremy Pelting as Edward Rutledge of South Carolina, whose menacing commentary on the slave trade is belted with stylish assurance by the young actor.
Outside the congressmen's numbers, there is a touching "Momma, Look Sharp" delivered a cappella by Bill Nesbitt playing George Washington's courier.
A few terrific performances are waiting to happen this weekend with a few minor adjustments.
I already like Ryna Easterday's imperious John Dickinson. With just a little more energy in his musical salute to conservatism ("Cool, Considerate Men") and in his scathing put-down of Adams ("Is That All England Means To You, Sir?") he would be stunningly good.
I'd also wish for a little more confidence from Bridget Kramer, who is lovely as Abigail Adams and needn't fear anything in Act II as she seemed to on Saturday, and a bit more attentiveness to the conductor's baton from Dana Chapin, who is the picture of Southern charm as Martha Jefferson.
At the end of the play, my daughter Joann said she likes coming to Naval Academy productions.
"Even if the show is bad, there are all those handsome people to look at," she said.
Last weekend, she hit the double: a handsome cast with a production to match.
"1776" plays at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Information and tickets: 410- 268-6060.
Pub Date: 2/18/99