Professors Show Off Talent in the Musical 1776

By Niki Fritz

Here in the Telecommunications Department, we know Mike McGregor and Steve Krahnke for their skills as professors and mentors. But lurking beneath those scholarly appearances, are two talented performers. Their talents were on display over the last two weeks in the Cardinal Stage’s production of the musical 1776.

For those unfamiliar with the Broadway classic, it is a musical about the events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Written in the sixties during the Vietnam War, the musical also reflects on the realities of war and the decisions that lead a country to the battlefield. Steve also notes, 1776 is a rather unusual musical in that “it is not a very musical musical. There is a lot of talking … This is musical drama more than musical theater.”

The show is still popular with audiences, partially because the political themes still resonate with people today. “People like the show because it is just not cynical. It is an unvarnished view of real people trying to do a hard thing, trying to do what people considered the right thing,” Steve explains.

Mike adds that the musical offers another hopeful look at how politics can operate. “There is a lot of compromising [in the musical]. I think that is interesting to people today, to see how much people were willing to give up to get something done. Today politicians are my way or the highway; they would rather the government go into default than compromise. The play resonates with people. The audience thinks ‘If they could do it then, why can’t we now?’”

In addition to all that heavy political discourse, the show also features some foot-stomping good dance numbers. Both Mike and Steve get in their fair share of singing and dancing. In fact, faculty member Paul Wright, who saw the show last week, was impressed by the performers’ moves.  “I think the highlight for me was Steve doing a pirouette. Steve had a nimble and precise pirouette.”

But despite his nimble dance moves, Steve wasn’t always 100% confident in his abilities, especially since he has not performed on stage in more than 25 years. The only reason Steve even auditioned was because the directors asked him to try out. “I think they just needed middle age guys who could sing,” Steve jokes. “I was as stunned as anybody when I got the part. Almost everybody in the show is better at what they do than I am at what I do.”

However, Steve soon got into his character, Roger Sherman, a pro-independence delegate from Connecticut. “It was not easy learning to [perform] again,” Steve explains. “I don’t like doing things I’m not good at. It took me a while to build my confidence.”

Steve Krahnke in 1776  as Roger Sherman, the delegate from Connecticut who always carries a gigantic tea cup

Steve Krahnke in 1776 as Roger Sherman, the delegate from Connecticut who always carries a gigantic tea cup

As for Mike, he is more of a seasoned vet, having performed with Cardinal Stage six times before including last season’s production of Les Misérables. But 1776 has a special place in Mike’s heart; he played Thomas Jefferson in a production of 1776 at Spring Mills almost 25 years ago. He loved the play and the part so much, he told the director of this year’s show that he would dye his hair and commit to a face-lift if he could play Jefferson again! Although Mike didn’t get to play the young TJ, he was a phenomenal Dr. Lyman Hall of Georgia.

After weeks of prep, including 12-hour rehearsal on Saturdays and nightly practice, the troupe sang and danced their way through 10 performances ending Saturday night with a final show. Both Steve and Mike, say that it will be nice to get back to some normal routine and see their families again. Mike’s wife has even taken to calling herself a “theater widow” since Mike did back-to-back musicals this year. But despite all the rehearsal time and sometimes brutal hours, both Mike and Steve say the experience was worth it.

“Standing on stage with bunch of other people feels great,” Steve says. “For me that is better than individual bow.” However, Steve says he’s not rushing back for another production for quite a while.

Mike on the other hand might take a little break but the stage will always be calling him.

“I just love being on stage. Rehearsals are hellish and that’s okay. In theater you work really hard during rehearsal and then you have a blast during the performance. Everyone did their fair share of complaining but once you get on stage and people are applauding and laughing, it is all worth. I doubt I’ll do another one soon but I doubt I’ll ever give it up.”

Mike McGregor in 1776 at far stage right during the musical number "Cool Cool Conservative Men"

Mike McGregor in 1776 at far left during the musical number “Cool Cool Conservative Men”