The musical 1776 has the best non-musical moment in a musical. Ever. Gauntlet thrown.
I don’t say this because it’s the day before the Fourth of July (though it did make me think of it) or because I was a strangely Thomas Jefferson-obsessed child (though I was; where others had Sesame Street on their wall, I had Monticello). I say it because the final scene of the musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence gets me every time. And there’s not a song in sight.
Think about all the things working against Peter Stone and his genius book–most importantly that it’s history 101 and we all know how it ends. And yet, we genuinely wonder, as the final moment draws near, if these guys can get it together to make history. The effect is truly suspenseful and moving, whatever your political leanings or interest in a bunch of powdered wigs.
But don’t think music isn’t important. The choice to NOT have a song is just as important as writing a song. In this case, it focuses our attention and keeps us in a state of tension so that, when the final bells toll over the votes, they land like a full orchestra and a chorus in harmony. Good, risky, smart stuff.
Let’s watch that scene from the movie version…