On stage through May 7 at Ahmanson Theater
Musicals were an integral part of early American entertainment. It was also a way of telling history to the public in a consumable way without causing negative reactions to actual history. The 17th century was a popular time that musicals showcased different directors and actors putting their spin on the historical feats during that period. One play that has seen success for the retold story of a historical moment is the musical “1776.”
The musical reenacts the moments before, during, and after the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Liberty Bell rang in the town square in Philapledia. The musical was inspired by Sherman Edwards's music and lyrics, directed by Peter King, and released on Broadway in 1969. The musical ran for 1,217 performances, won the Tony Award for best musical, and, over the last 50-plus years, won over Americans and kept them entertained as they experienced multiple wars during those decades.
The show returned in 2022 as directors Jeffrey L. Page and Diane Paulus decided to put a unique twist on the famous story. It starts with the casting of the actors. The cast is racially diverse with women, nonbinary and trans actors, whose embodiment, Paulus said, wakes the language up.
“I want the audience to hold that dual reality, of what the founders were, but also a company of actors in 2022, who never would have been allowed inside Independence Hall,” Paulus said in a video interview last month.
One of the cast members, Tiffani Barbour, who portrays Andrew McNair, is grateful not only for the opportunity but to be included in such a diverse and culture-moving musical.
"My agent sent me a breakdown of the project, and it said it was an all-female revival of the play 1776, which I watched growing up, but back then, the cast was filled with all white males," Barbour said as she explained her process of obtaining a role in the musical. Barbour auditioned for multiple roles in the play and had to wait weeks before she heard anything, but was excited once she learned she made it as one of the cast members.
“Seeing all these women of color and female-identifying people, I know it was going to be something really big, and then once we got into the process of the show, I realized the diversity of the cast was going to make the show even more special and welcoming for the audience," Barbour said.
Barbour's acting career began at age 9 when her parents enrolled her in Arena Players Theater Camp in Baltimore, Md., America’s oldest Black theater camp. She continued attending the camp, until she graduated high school, where she enrolled at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia to take her acting skills to another level.
After graduating from college, Barbour moved to New York to pursue her career in acting but had to experience the growing pains of being an actress early into her transition.
"It was tough, but I was surrounded by a good group of people, and we were all on the same page about our goals," Barbour said about the early days of building her name brand. "I did a show in Philly that transferred up to New York, and through a friend of the show, I was able to meet an agent who eventually became my agent, and I was able to book my first national tour through them in the show called 'Fame.'
Barbour enjoyed the next 18 months touring Europe, but once the tour was over reality hit her once she came back to New York and was back into her hustle and bustle lifestyle, trying to secure more auditions and casting calls. In time, Barbour would receive her big break in landing a role in the musical “Mamma Mia” based on the Swedish Pop group ABBA, which topped the American and European charts in the 1970s.
After four years on tour, Barbour returned to New York only to be contacted by her agent about '1776,' when she auditioned for roles like John Adams, a mail courier, and other parts before being tapped to portray Andrew McNair, a White custodian who served the Continental Congress. History reveals that McNair was the official ringer of the Liberty Bell from 1759 to 1776; he likely rang it to announce independence on July 8, 1776 (the announcement was delayed four days to allow the Declaration of Independence to be printed). His services terminated on September 15, 1776, upon his death.
Barbour and the rest of the 1776 cast will perform the Broadway musical for one month at the Ahmanson Theater, 135 N Grand Ave, through May 7. Tickets are available at https://tinyurl.com/yc85cpby and range from $36 to $250.