Director’s notes on 1776

By Debra Clinton, director

1776 is a story about hope and change, two things that have been on the minds of many Americans in recent times. The situation then was similar to now. Factions of our country (colonies at the time) in disagreement about the current state of affairs in our society. People in opposition to each other about what the right course of action might be. People with a strong vision for the future and willing to take risks to forge ahead. Knowing those Founding Fathers shared similar problems gives me a sense of identification and being connected to something. I think people call that history.

Debra Clinton
Debra Clinton

Which leads me to another relevant thing about 1776, at least for me. This show taps into my recently dormant pride in being an American – a fundamental value that I grew up with. When I was in grade school, there was a picture of John F. Kennedy in every classroom. We revered the presidency. It was kind of like having a king or queen to be proud of. I think pride in one’s country adds a level of meaning to your life.

It’s my belief that 1776 will be a perfect forum to continue this very passionate discourse we’ve been having in our country this year about the best course of action for our nation. That is the question on the table in the play. How do we move forward? This affects every one of us. We all have something at stake, as did the signers of the Declaration.


1776 opens this Friday, September 30, at the Sara Belle and Neil November Theatre.

Debra Clinton serves as artistic director of the Jewish Family Theatre at the Weinstein JCC, while being a playwright and lyricist, a member of the TRAIN faculty for Virginia Rep and Cadence, and a full time theatre arts teacher in Hanover County. Recent directorial efforts include Les Miserables, Student Edition (JFT) Croaker (Virginia Rep), The Whipping Man (Virginia Rep), Bad Jews (Theater Lab) and Man of LaMancha (Dogwood Dell).


By Scott Wichmann

“It should be your care, therefore, and mine, to elevate the minds of our children and exalt their courage; to accelerate and animate their industry and activity; to excite in them an habitual contempt of meanness, abhorrence of injustice and inhumanity, and an ambition to excel in every capacity, faculty, and virtue. If we suffer their minds to grovel and creep in infancy, they will grovel all their lives.”

~John Adams

When we think of the founding generation, we are often tempted to envision a ‘Mount Olympus’ where the central figures in the American Revolution reside forever, eternally looking down on at us in the present day with either extreme pride or extreme disapproval.

At the center of this grand pantheon, we may imagine George Washington, the statuesque central hero of the American drama and its transcendent first president; Thomas Jefferson, the quiet, measured, calculating “American Sphinx,” who put humanity’s greatest aspirations down on paper and eventually doubled the geographical size of our fledgling nation; Alexander Hamilton, the brash, daring self-made master of battlefield tactics, finance, commerce and language (and star subject of a mega-hit Broadway musical); And Benjamin Franklin, the charismatic scientist, inventor, writer, publisher, diplomat and international bon vivant.

Scott Wichmann as John Adams in 'Legends & Lies: The Patriots Episode 2: John Adams: Ready for War'.
Scott Wichmann as John Adams in ‘Legends & Lies: The Patriots Episode 2: John Adams: Ready for War’.

Yet of all the founding fathers, John Adams has always seemed to me the most relatable. Adams, the country lawyer, congressman, diplomat, first vice president and second president. Impatient. Contrarian. Insecure. Combative. Diminutive. Driven. Principled. Steadfast.

Author of the Massachusetts State Constitution, Father of the U.S. Navy and ardent proponent of public education. The farmer son of a parson who himself never held a slave. The plain-spoken Braintree father and husband who helped to forge a nation, travelled the world and stood before King George III as an American ambassador.

He remains, by far, my favorite historical figure.

John Adams also happens to be the loud, dynamic spark igniting a dramatic powder keg in my all-time favorite musical—1776—Opening September 30 at Virginia Repertory Theatre.

I was first introduced to 1776 by my college pal, Mark Cajigao, on a weekend car trip to Rutgers in the fall of 1991. I was a freshman theatre major at Wagner College on Staten Island. Our friend Michelle Millerick was in the car, too. Mark and Michelle were- and still are- brilliant powerhouse actors, and I looked up to them then as now.

As he slipped the Original Broadway Cast Recording of 1776 into his car’s tape deck, Mark, who played Adams in high school, said to me,“You are really going to love this show.” By the time the first crisp military drumbeats of the overture hit my ears, I was already hooked. The music rose to a celebratory, euphoric height and slowly faded, a single piccolo trailing off into quiet.

Suddenly, from somewhere in the silence, John Adams’ voice roared out, tearing into the torpid congress for its collective inaction in the face of tyranny and injustice. I leaned forward from the back seat, my Red-Sox-cap-covered-head popping in between the driver and passenger seats to listen closer.

“Adams would be a great role for you someday,” said Mark, cooly guiding the car down the New Jersey Turnpike as Adams concluded his harangue. Suddenly something like twenty male voices on the recording shot back in strident musical unison “Sit DOWN, John!! Sit DOWN John!! For God’s sake, John— SIT DOWN!!”

“Wow,” I thought. “A musical where the opening number is a giant argument…?!?!!” “I LOVE IT!!!!”

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Chomping at the Bit

Nathaniel Shaw
Nathaniel at the November Theatre

Moving to Richmond is finally right around the corner, and I couldn’t be more anxious to get settled in to our new home.  The more I get to know everyone at Virginia Rep the more excited I get about the great things to come.

It was quite a summer, with back to back productions of West Side Story and A Chorus Line at Cortland Rep, then Toni Press-Coffman’s gorgeous play Touch at 59e59 in NYC.  Most importantly, my wife and I had a second beautiful little boy.  Caleb joined us on August 24th, and is sporting a “onesie” sent by Bruce Miller as I write this.  I’m trying to gently rock his chair right now to keep him from waking so I can finish this post.  I am making the move September 30th to be in Richmond for the opening of 1776, and my family will join soon after.  Wild and wonderful that the time is finally here.

One of the reasons I’m so eager to get down to Richmond is that we are embarking on an exciting collaboration with Glass Half Full Productions, the Tony and Olivier Award winning producers of Curious Incident of the Dog in the NIghttime, The Mark Rylance double bill of Twelfth Night and Richard III, and Sunny Afternoon (West End) to name a few.  I have led development on a new play, River Ditty by Matthew Keuter, for several years.  GHF believes the play has potential for a future on the West End or Broadway, and wants to work with Virginia Rep in the development process.  We will be doing a two week workshop of the play this December, allowing us to further develop the script, and explore early staging ideas.  Hopefully (fingers crossed), we are forging a path to present this workshop in December, premiere the work at Virginia Rep down the road, and use these two steps to build the producing team that will take River Ditty to a bright commercial future.

Our ’16-’17 season is already rich with new work from Bo Wilson and David Robbins.  Adding another workshop of a new work is a strong indicator of exciting things to come in new work development at Virginia Rep.

Adult Auditions for A Christmas Story



Additional auditions will be held for adults on Sunday, August 28, 3-7 p.m.


Auditions are by appointment only and will be held at Virginia Rep’s November Theatre, 114 W Broad St., Richmond, VA 23220.


Those who auditioned at the 2016-17 Season Open Call do not need to attend this audition.


Please e-mail to request an appointment.


Those auditioning are asked to prepare a short musical theatre song, not to exceed 2 minutes in length.  An accompanist will be provided.  Please bring sheet music in the appropriate key.


First Rehearsal: October 31, 2016
Run: November 23 – January 1, 2017


Character Breakdown:


**Seeking adult actors ONLY.


JEAN SHEPARD/ NARRATOR: (50-65) the narrator (Ralphie is him as a boy), plays several roles in and out of the story as well. Midwestern, charming, warm, excellent story teller. And again, warm. Not a singing role.


MISS SHIELDS (30-55): school teacher. Not a stick-in-the-mud, she’s sassy. Funny musical comedy belter who taps.


ADULT ENSEMBLE (18+) seeking interesting, off-beat, singer/dancer/actors with bright contemporary voices to play a multitude of roles and some to play featured roles and some to cover the principals.


Please direct questions to