Musical on founding fathers’ struggles runs until May 12 at MH Playhouse

Published in the May 8 – 21, 2019 issue of Morgan Hill Life

From left: John Adams, played by Peter Mandel, Benjamin Franklin, played by Jon Reed, and Thomas Jefferson, played by Michael Lund, in the musical “1776.” Photo courtesy Elizabeth Mandel

At El Toro Health Science Academy, Cristianna Bernal and other fifth-graders have been learning about the founding of the United States. The 11-year-old last week enjoyed an enhanced history lesson with a theatrical show about the founding fathers.

Actors in the South Valley Civic Theatre’s musical “1776” performed a special version of the hit Broadway show twice May 2 for students from El Toro, Paradise Valley, San Martin Gwinn, P.A. Walsh and Barrett elementary schools.

“It taught about everything that happened in the olden days,” Bernal said. “It’s about a lot of stuff about how people used to live and why it’s good to be independent.”

Earlier that week, she and other students at El Toro worked with principal Darren McDonald, reading the Declaration of Independence for a video that was uploaded on YouTube. McDonald is in the show playing Dr. Lyman Hall, a delegate from Georgia.

Fellow El Toro fifth-grader Bella Dowd was impressed by the student-version of musical.

“You get to see how independent they were back then and how we can do that now,” she said. “It’s fun because we get to know how history is made. Studying history is important.”

Photo courtesy Elizabeth Mandel
South Carolina delegate Edward Rutledge, played by Daniel McDonald, sings about the hypocrisy of slavery in the SVCT musical “1776.”

Jaslene Moreno, another fifth grade El Toro student who saw the show, described how the document written by Thomas Jefferson changed the world.

“The power of words can really do anything,” she said. “That’s why it’s important for kids to learn how to write.”

McDonald described how using the dramatic arts in “1776” can entertain students and also help them understand the founding fathers as human beings with flaws and character quirks.

“The show brings what they read in the textbook alive,” he said. “The students are able to see (history) on stage and experience it as if it were really happening, more than just words in a book.”

The lessons of the politics of the American Revolution can be applied to today’s current events, he said.

“It’s a struggle we can still be a part of,” he said. “That’s the great thing about our country, that these students have a voice and they’re seeing that even in this play.”

McDonald’s son, Daniel McDonald, is a fifth grade teacher in San Jose with a passion for history and theater. He performs as South Carolina delegate Edward Rutledge, the youngest signatory of the Declaration of Independence. Several of the schools attending the special performances are Title 1 with low-income students, and he hopes this will encourage young minds to find expression in the arts.

“Many students have never been to a theater before, and theater is a magical place that transports the audience to a different time and place,” he said.

The show deals with difficult topics — such as slavery — that help the students understand the hard decisions the founders needed to make, he said.

The special “1776” outreach performances serve to encourage students to explore history as well as appreciate the arts, said the show’s director, Colleen Blanchard.

“The performing arts don’t have as strong funding in the schools,” she said. “So to have them come and see a theatrical production, it can foster that love of American history but also the love of the arts — and see what the possibilities are for them out there to participate in.”

Marty Cheek