Tamara Brown
Local favorite Michael Ballam plays John Adams in "1776."

"1776," Utah Festival Opera, Ellen Eccles Theatre, Logan, in repertory with "Into the Woods," "Manon Lescaut" and "Aida" through Aug. 9 (435-750-0300 or 800-262-0074)

As the color guard, including one World War II vet from the battle of Iwo Jima, entered the theater, led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance and the national anthem, the mood was clearly set for a show about the birth of our nation.

"1776" is one of the musical offerings this season at Utah Festival Opera, and it's worth seeing. It's an amazing story — what happened during that hot, muggy summer when those brave, passionate men dared to forge new territory, against all odds, and form a new country.

Even though, in essence, we already know the ending, I still find myself getting tense each time they take a vote on the issue of independence — will they do it?

Veteran performer and local favorite Michael Ballam leads the cast as the spirited John Adams. Ballam not only sounds great, but his bombast and love for his country are clearly evident.

Famous Ben Franklin is played with jovial likability by David Ward, who, thanks to the help of Michelle Diamantides' wigs and makeup, also bares an uncanny resemblance to the patriot and inventor.

In the role of the brilliant, yet notably quiet, Thomas Jefferson, is Kyle Pfortmiller. With a nice stage presence, the gravitas needed to play Jefferson is especially present any time Pfortmiller opens his mouth to sing.

Opposing independence, Rutledge and Dickinson, are Mark Womack and Josh Powell; both are equally good at being unlikable. Womack's unsettling song, "Molasses to Rum," about the slavery trade, was strong, forboding and very well done — leaving many in the house making audible noises at the end.

There were a few things that didn't quite work as well. There were times the actors, either by choice or perhaps as directed by Jack Shouse, seemed to mug to the audience, which seemed odd as it isn't necessary and only pulls people out of Philadelphia.

Tlaloc Lopez-Waterman's lighting was a touch dim for my taste, leaving many in the Continental Congress sitting in shadows.

Lara Stevens as Martha Jefferson seemed to struggle with her song, doing half of it in belt-style singing and the other half head voice. The courier who delivers George Washington's sobering updates from the battlefield, Jonathan Hoover, sings a song about his friends dying. His voice is strong, but his scene beforehand seemed rather flip and casual, like he was talking about hanging out with his friends rather than witnessing their deaths.

Bill Forrester has designed a gorgeous set and, with the major task of outfitting 10-plus men in Revolutionary garb, Patti Johnson's work looked great.

"1776" is a good reminder of where we got our start as a country. Heading into election season, now might be a the time to treat yourself to this production.


E-mail: ehansen@desnews.com