John Adams is kind of a dick.
"I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is called 'a disgrace'; that two are called 'a law firm'; and that three or more become 'a congress,'" says the Massachusetts delegate during the opening act of 1776.
It's a frustration born of failing to convince the other 50-some delegates in the Second Continental Congress — meeting in "foul, fetid, fuming, foggy, filthy Philadelphia" — to break away from England.
So, is longtime local actor Cory Moosman, portraying Adams, appropriately "obnoxious and disliked"?
"Oh, absolutely, absolutely — he's very good at it," jokes Marco Robinson, who plays Thomas Jefferson in the Fine Arts Center Theatre Company's latest show. "After doing The Producers, he keeps a lot of that obnoxious fire in him for John Adams."
Adams, Jefferson and Ben Franklin (Colin Alexander) make up the main trio in the 1969 Broadway play, but they're hardly the only ones on stage; roughly 30 people comprise the large, mostly male, ensemble cast, which fills a re-creation of Independence Hall.
"It's the only musical theater piece that has about a 30-minute segment which has the delegates talking and arguing — it's 30 minutes without one musical note, nothing," says Robinson, the 20-year-old graduate of Pine Creek High School who's already a veteran of the local stage scene. "And that's very, very rarely seen in musical theater. So, this musical holds a place in my heart because there's a lot more acting than you would expect from a show."
And let's not forget the insults. Invectives like "landlord," "madman" and the always-popular "lawyer" fly between Adams and main rival John Dickinson, the Pennsylvanian who advocates reconciliation with the mother country. Meanwhile, Jefferson just wants get home to Virginia to "refresh the missus," and initially can't be bothered to write the Declaration of Independence. And Franklin is enjoying the attainment of that certain age where he'd rather spend time posing in the park for a painting — "being preserved for posterity," as it were.
Toss in depressing dispatches from "G. Washington"; the tension of corralling votes; and the quiet thoughts of a mother looking for the body of her soldier son, and a more complex musical emerges. Even the Atlantic triangular trade makes an appearance, in the form of South Carolina delegate Edward Rutledge criticizing Jefferson's hypocritical stance against Southern slavery: "Who sails the ships out of Boston, laden with Bibles and rum? / Who drinks a toast to the Ivory Coast? / Hail Africa, the slavers have come. / New England, with Bibles and rum!"
"I think they do a fantastic job of making of making it relevant, and making it entertaining, and all at the same time making it historical," says Robinson. "And I think that that alone makes it unlike any other musical that is out there right now."