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There are obvious challenges to staging a show about the signing of America's Declaration of Independence.

Portraying our country's founding fathers without glorifying or trivializing them is a tricky tightrope walk. Adding music and rhyme to political arguments is bound to get a bit silly at times. And, adding love interest to the show - something no musical should be without - is a challenge.

Although Utah Festival Opera Company's revival of Sherman Edwards' "1776" skirts these pitfalls admirably, something else inherent to congressional debate trips up the show: all that talk, talk, talk.

Saturday's opening night at Logan's Ellen Eccles Theatre had minor glitches that will no doubt be fixed by the time you read this. The show's torpid pacing is a more serious issue. Including intermission, "1776" was three hours long, and in the wordy first act, the time passed slowly.

For whatever reason, conversational interchanges were stiff and sluggish, with notable exceptions.

David Ward's portrayal of Benjamin Franklin was amusing and convincing. Scenes came alive whenever he spoke. Even lyrics comparing our nation's founding to the "chirp, chirp, chirp of an eaglet being born" were elevated by his likeable demeanor and warm baritone voice.

Mark Womack excelled in the show's most difficult role - that of South Carolina's Edward Rutledge, who refused to sign the Declaration unless the institution of slavery was protected. His song about the slave trade "Molasses to Rum," was an emotional high point in the show, though its subject is a squeamish one.

UFOC founder Michael Ballam (John Adams) and Joy Hermalyn (Abigail Adams) reprised their roles from the company's sprightlier 1996 production. Ballam is well cast as Adams, although vocal strain was evident on opening night.

The show's other couple, Thomas and Martha Jefferson (Kyle Pfortmiller and Lara Stevens) brought wonderful voices to their roles, and Stevens lent needed romantic allure to the show.

Flaws notwithstanding, "1776" brings our nation's founding fathers to life as no history book can, and its conclusion is impressive despite never being in doubt. If director Jack Shouse makes a few tweaks -or trims - it will be as entertaining as it is instructive.


* Where: Ellen Eccles Theatre, 43 S. Main, Logan

* Tickets: $11 to $74.

* More information: or call 800-262-0074

* Bottom line: Individual performances stand out, but sluggish pacing steals the shine.

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