Is Anybody There?

In the winter of 1971, my parents took me and my sister and brothers to see 1776 at the St. James Theatre in New York.  It was the first Broadway musical I ever saw.  (Those who know me well will not be surprised to learn that I still have the Playbill).

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I can’t say for sure, but I think it’s likely that the experience sparked my interest in the U.S. Presidents, prompting me to learn them all, in order, along with their Vice Presidents; for a number of Christmases and birthdays that followed, books about the presidents were always on my gift list.  I also asked for the Original Broadway Cast Album (and still have that, too).  The song I listened to more than any other (translation: over and over) was “Is Anybody There?”, sung by John Adams (played by William Daniels), at the end of the show.  He is despairing that other members of the Continental Congress don’t share his vision of an independent nation.  For me, the highlight runs from 1:15 to 1:32: the lyric “I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory!”, and then the propulsive insistence of the brass and percussion that follows the questions, “Is anybody there?” and “Does anybody care?”  It may have been the first time I realized that music could convey urgency as effectively as words can, and it was thrilling to me.

Is anybody there?
Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

They want to me to quit; they say
John, give up the fight
Still to England I say
Good night, forever, good night!
For I have crossed the Rubicon
Let the bridge be burned behind me
Come what may, come what may

Commitment!

The croakers all say we’ll rue the day
There’ll be hell to pay in fiery purgatory
Through all the gloom, through all the gloom
I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory!

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

I see fireworks! I see the pageant and
Pomp and parade
I hear the bells ringing out
I hear the cannons roar
I see Americans – all Americans
Free forever more

How quiet, how quiet the chamber is
How silent, how silent the chamber is

Is anybody there? Does anybody care?
Does anybody see what I see?

I know at some point I asked my parents, “What is the Rubicon and why is it important that Adams has crossed it?”, so the song was instructive in other ways as well.

"Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776", by John Trumbull
“Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776”, by John Trumbull

Trivia tidbit: William Daniels, who played John Adams both on Broadway and in the 1972 film version of 1776, played Dustin Hoffman’s father in The Graduate and Dr. Mark Craig on the 1982-1988 TV series, St. Elsewhere.

2 comments

  • William Daniels was also in a movie I really like called “Two For the Road” also starring Audrey Hepburn and Albert Finney. Daniels’ wife in “St. Elsewhere” was played by his real life wife, Bonnie Bartlett. When they both won an Emmy for “St. Elsewhere” on the same night, it was a rare husband-wife triumph.

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  • Jeanne- I was (and remain) a huge John (and even more so, Abigail) Adams fan!

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