We Declare: ‘1776’ Offers a New Take on History

Liz Mikel, Nancy Anderson and Gisela Adisa perform in “1776,” which runs through Sunday at the Des Moines Civic Center. Photo: Joan Marcus.

The revolution won’t be televised, but it will be onstage: “1776” runs through Sunday at the Des Moines Civic Center. So you still have a chance to reimagine how the founding fathers – played here by a multiracial female, transgender and nonbinary cast – drafted, debated and ultimately signed the Declaration of Independence almost 250 years ago.

The musical premiered on Broadway in 1969, smack-dab in the middle of the Vietnam War, so it’s not quite the flag-waving spectacle its basic premise might suggest. The somber second-act number “Momma, Look Sharp,” for example, comes from a young Revolutionary soldier – someone who felt the Declaration’s consequences differently than the bigwigs in Philadelphia.

The new revival expands the story’s scope even further. It starts with an Indigenous cast member’s acknowledgment that the Civic Center stands on land that once belonged to the Ioway, Sac, Fox and other nations that were here long before any European ships landed on the East Coast.

Later, the song “Molasses to Rum” explains how white New Englanders profited from slavery just as much as their Southern counterparts, a fact that added a haunting irony to the Declaration’s final wording – and the country it created. Arguments about life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness land differently when they come from a multiracial, multigender cast.

Tickets start at $40 for shows at 7:30 p.m. today through Friday, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

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