Historical Roles on Broadway
While “Hamilton” the biggest buzz on the stage this year, the Founding Fathers are no strangers to the Broadway stage.
Many of them starred in 1776 which opened in 1969. The musical won the Tony Award for Best Musical the same year. It was adapted for the big screen in 1972, with Howard Da Silva reprising his role as Benjamin Franklin, and was revived on Broadway again in 1997.
In 1964’s Ben Franklin in Paris , fictionalized account of Franklin’s trip across the sea, as the Ambassador to France. Robert Preston starred in the title role.
In 1940’s George Washington Slept Here, the Kaufman and Hart play about a couple who buy an old Bucks County farmhouse because our first president supposedly spent the night in the house, the president doesn’t appear, and it turns out never slept there. Spoiler alert, it was actually Benedict Arnold who had been the guest that night (gasp!).
In 1976, Hirschfeld did a composite drawing of different characters from various television series called “TV Historical Figures.” In the country’s Bicentennial year, the Founding Fathers and could be seen frequently on the small screen. In Hirschfeld’s drawing there are five characters from different series and specials in that year. George Grizzard starred as John Adams in the 13 part mini-series The Adams Chronicles; Rip Torn appeared as Walt Whitman in a one hour special in CBS’ three year long; The American Parade, Hal Holbrook took a turn as the 16th President in the mini series Lincoln, based on Carl Sandburg’s biography; and Jane Aelxander and Edward Herrmann as the Roosevelts in Eleanor and Franklin.
From the greeks to Shakespeare to modern day playwrights, history has always played on a role in the theater, and later film and television. We salute “Hamilton” for successfully bringing the first Secretary of the Treasury’s story to life and to a 21st century audience. Bravo and bon chance at the Tonys!