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Before there was ‘Hamilton,’ there was ‘1776’

Laurence Lesser and Gregor Piatigorsky in “The Cellist.”Mary Leipziger

The 1972 film adaptation of the Broadway musical “1776” is an entertaining civics lesson for audiences of all ages. In celebration of Patriots’ Day, Arlington’s Regent Theatre presents a free screening April 15 at 2 p.m.

Based on composer Sherman Edwards and writer Peter Stone’s 1969 theatrical production, winner of the Tony Award for best musical, the film chronicles the efforts of the Continental Congress, led by John Adams (Williams Daniels), and aided by Benjamin Franklin (Howard DaSilva) and Thomas Jefferson (Ken Howard), to declare the colonies’ independence from Britain.

Since the phenomenon of “Hamilton” and its inventive use of hip-hop and a multicultural cast, “1776” may seem old-fashioned by comparison. But in the early ’70s, the idea of a musical about the signing of the Declaration of Independence which humanized the men and women involved was a pretty risky venture.


One of the film’s playful touches has Jefferson needing the company of his wife, Martha (Blythe Danner), to help him combat writer’s block as he struggles to compose the declaration. Abigail Adams (Virginia Vestoff who, like most of the cast, reprises her role from the Broadway show) also gets ample screen time. As John and Abigail, Daniels and Vestoff sing three duets, “Till Then,” “Yours, Yours, Yours,” and “Compliments.” There’s also “Molasses to Rum,” sung by John Cullum as Edward Rutledge, of South Carolina. In it he accuses the North of hypocrisy over the slave trade, with its memorable lines:

Hail Boston! Hail Charleston!

Who stinketh the most?

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Cello tones

Another free screening will appeal to film music aficionados alike. “The Cellist: The Legacy of Gregor Piatigorsky,” a new documentary by Murray Grigor, chronicles the life and career of the legendary musician and composer. Piatigorsky (1903-1976) became the principal cellist for the Bolshoi Theater at 15, before escaping the Soviet Union and eventually making his home in New York. It screens April 15, 7:30 p.m., at New England Conservatory’s Plimpton Shattuck Black Box Theatre.


Piatigorsky made his American debut in 1929, playing his signature piece, the cello solo in Richard Strauss’s tone poem “Don Quixote,” with prestigious such orchestras as the New York Philharmonic and Los Angeles Philharmonic. Piatigorsky later headed the cello department at the Curtis Institute of Music, in Philadelphia, and also taught at Boston University, Tanglewood, and the University of Southern California. The filmmakers had exclusive access to the Piatigorsky Archives at the Colburn School of Music, in Los Angeles. Among those interviewed in the film are cellist Yo-Yo Ma and conductors Zubin Mehta and Michael Tilson Thomas.

A post-screening panel will feature Grigor, cinematographer and editor Hamid Shams, producer Carol Colburn Grigor, consultant Terry King, and former Piatigorsky students Laurence Lesser and Paul Katz.

The screening is free but tickets are required.

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A maze of multiple dimensions

Writer-director Ulya Aviral not only traveled from Cambridge to her native Turkey to research then shoot her short film “My Nature,” she also created an original language for actress Ekin Yeser to speak in the film.

“The language has its own vocabulary but I included some words from regional languages like Arabic, Turkish, Armenian, Kurdish, Farsi, and Greek to unite all these cultures who have been at wars for centuries,” says Aviral, who earned her MFA in film and media art from Emerson College last year.


Lasting ten minutes, “My Nature” uses magic realism to tell a story about the effects of endless war in an unidentified Middle Eastern country. The sole character is a woman (Yeser) whose memories unfold as she walks through her home which, as the war escalates, turns into a maze and leads her through a tunnel, where she passes into another dimension.

“My Nature” screens April 15, 3:30 p.m., at the Kendall Square Cinema as part of the Boston International Film Festival, which runs to April 16. Aviral will be in attendance for a post-screening discussion.

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Loren King can be reached at