Broadway musical '1776' uses non-traditional casting This production uses a cast of multi-racial actors who are female, nonbinary and trans — people who weren't even considered in the Declaration of Independence.

In the Broadway musical '1776,' the revolution is in the casting

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


The musical "1776" has been given a revolutionary new production on Broadway. Instead of telling the story of the founding of America with a cast of mostly white males, this version uses a cast of multiracial actors who are female, nonbinary, and trans - people who weren't even considered in the Declaration of Independence. Jeff Lunden reports.

JEFF LUNDEN, BYLINE: When "1776" premiered on Broadway in 1969, America was enmeshed in the Vietnam War, and the antiwar musical "Hair" was a big hit. So a musical featuring singing-and-dancing Founding Fathers seemed like a long shot. Instead, it became a popular Tony Award winner.


UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS #1: (As Congress, singing) Someone ought to open up a window.

WILLIAM DANIELS: (As John Adams, singing) I say vote yes.

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS #1: (As Congress, singing) Sit down, John.

DANIELS: (As John Adams, singing) Vote for independency.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character, singing) Someone ought to open...

LUNDEN: In the 2022 revival, it sounds like this.


UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS #2: (As Congress, singing) Someone ought to open up a window.

CRYSTAL LUCAS-PERRY: (As John Adams, singing) I say vote yes.

UNIDENTIFIED CHORUS #2: (As Congress, singing) Sit down, John.

LUCAS-PERRY: (As John Adams, singing) Vote for independency.

LUNDEN: Co-director Diane Paulus had never seen or read "1776" when she was approached about working on a new production. She says she found the script powerfully relevant but wanted to give the show a new frame by casting people who are not cis white males.

DIANE PAULUS: We're here. It's 2022. Now you're going to watch this cast of brilliant performers, literally and metaphorically, step into the shoes of the Founding Father.

LUNDEN: The production has gotten mixed reviews. Some critics find the approach refreshingly illuminating, others not so much. One critic called it terminally woke. Patrena Murray, who plays Benjamin Franklin, says even before it opened, she was hearing grumbles from purists on social media.

PATRENA MURRAY: Sometimes I look at the Facebook posts, and I see folks who I feel need to see the play but won't because they call it revisionist theater.

LUNDEN: But for the cast, taking on these traditionally male, white roles is powerful, says Crystal Lucas-Perry, the Black actor who plays John Adams.

LUCAS-PERRY: It's also, like, incredibly validating to literally step your foot into something that feels like you're stepping into a history where you were purposely not meant to be.

LUNDEN: Some of the staging radically revises musical numbers like "The Egg," a sweet song sung by John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson as they contemplate the birth of a new nation.


DANIELS: (As John Adams, singing) We're waiting for the...

WILLIAM DANIELS, KEN HOWARD AND REX EVERHART: (As characters, singing) ...Chirp, chirp, chirp of an eaglet being born. Waiting for the...

LUNDEN: In this version, a video of 246 years of American history - good, bad and ugly - flashes on a curtain behind the actors while the noticeably pregnant Elizabeth A. Davis, who plays Jefferson, shreds on an electric violin.


CRYSTAL LUCAS-PERRY, ELIZABETH A DAVIS AND PATRENA MURRAY: (As characters, singing) We say to hell with Great Britain. The eagle inside belongs to us.

ELIZABETH A DAVIS: I'm playing the national anthem Jimi Hendrix-style, but I could just be, like, chicken-scratching. And we would get the same message that this is about revolution, this is about turning things on its head.

LUNDEN: Jefferson, who was a slave owner, wrote a clause in an early draft of the Declaration of Independence abolishing slavery. And the climax of "1776" is the fight over that paragraph. The delegates from the South want it cut. The delegates from the North want to keep it. But the vote for independence needs to be unanimous.


SARA PORKALOB: (As Edward Rutledge, singing) Molasses to rum to slaves...

LUNDEN: This song, "Molasses To Rum," sung by the delegate from South Carolina, points out the North's complicity in the slave trade. In the original, the song is a chilling solo. Here, it's an ensemble number. And the Black actors are seen as enslaved people, says Diane Paulus.

PAULUS: You see the performers in their identities, whether they're Black or non-Black people of color in our cast, collaborate in this enactment to show the audience that this is not something that we look at from the past, but that this has resonance and continues to have resonance.

LUNDEN: Crystal Lucas-Perry says the staging doesn't just shake the audience, but the cast.

LUCAS-PERRY: It's heavy, and it's not easy. And what it costs us as performers, as people of color, as people of different ethnicities and genders - there's a cost that goes into it.

LUNDEN: And in this interpretation, the signing of the Declaration of Independence at the end isn't a triumph, but a warning of those costs, says actor Patrena Murray.

MURRAY: Independence is just another word for freedom. And so one of the things that I think about this play is, well, freedom for who, really?

LUNDEN: "1776" plays on Broadway until Jan. 9th. Then, it goes on a 16-city national tour. For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

Copyright © 2022 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.