Summer film fest opens with patriotic theme

Binghamton’s Summer Film Festival opened July 1 with a full evening of patriotic entertainment at The Forum in Binghamton, including an appearance by “President Thomas Jefferson”; concert briefs by the Carousel Harmony Chorus, Jill and Jake Gardner, and Claudia Kachmarik with the Robert Morton Theatre Organ; and a screening of the film version of the Broadway musical comedy 1776. Thanks to Broome County, the Binghamton City School District, the Downtown Binghamton Business Association, Newman Development Group, Security Mutual, Hinman Howard and Kattell, and others for providing this evening of entertainment. The Summer Film Festival replaces Pops in the Arena/on the Plaza, which was lost with the demise of Southern Tier Celebrates.

James Gleason, a native Virginian in costume as Thomas Jefferson, read a portion of the Declaration of Independence before singing “The Star Spangled Banner.” It was such a pleasure to hear someone sing our national anthem without pop, hip-hop or country “embellishment” of the music. After all, as it was, Francis Scott Key used for his tune “The Anacreontic Song,” a British gentlemen’s pub song from the Crown and Anchor tavern in the Strand! It doesn’t need any embellishment. Thursday’s arrangement took a little liberty (pardon the pun) with the rhythm, but Gleason sang it straight and as inspiring as the late Robert Merrill at the (also late) Yankee Stadium.

Kachmarik, president of the Binghamton Theater Organ Society, rose to the occasion (another pun … sorry) in two program segments at the Morton Organ. The full-throated Morton had toes tapping to traditional favorites such as “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” “Columbia Gem of the Ocean” and “Grand Old Flag,” as well as “Variations on America,” “Stars and Stripes Forever” and “Liberty Bell March.” On a quieter note, Kachmarik delicately played “Ashokan Farewell” from the PBS series The Civil War.

The Carousel Harmony Chorus performed on a bare stage with its brick wall, pipes, and backstage “underwear” showing, a minimalist set with an industrial look. The 18-member chorus and Four of Hearts quartet  performed “Ready for Love” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Man.” Barbershop Beatles?? Yes, actually “When I’m Sixty-Four” and “Something” sounded quite credible in barbershop style.

The Gardners appeared to offer musical theater favorites of his (“The Impossible Dream”), hers (“I Could Have Danced All Night”) and theirs (Cole Porter’s “Wunderbar”).

Having seen the Cider Mill’s production of 1776, we were eager to see the film version of the Broadway musical comedy about the Declaration of Independence. The two-hour 40-minute film was tediously long by comparison, but funny and moving nonetheless. In time, comedy can make light of almost any serious matter (e.g. “Hogan’s Heroes”). I believe the ever-practical Benjamin Franklin would excuse his portrayal of gout-footed dancing in a kick line, for the sake of the historical drama underlying the screenplay. Having done part of my studies in the Boston area, I became well acquainted with all the sites and locales of the Freedom Trail. It was an entirely different sense of awe to stand for the first time, just a few years ago, in Independence Hall in Philadelphia and realize the tasks before our founders there: not rebellion and revolution, but independence and governance. 

Both at the Cider Mill andTthe Forum, the strongest audience reaction was to John Hancock’s chiding of New York delegate Lewis Morris’s continual abstentions (“courteously”). Spontaneous outbursts of laughter and applause greeted Morris’ lament: “I have no direction from Albany. They talk and talk but nothing ever gets done!” Some things, it seems, really haven’t changed in 234 years!

Comedy aside, one has to believe the musical gives factual witness to the human struggles of conscience, the bitter debate and the wrenching compromises (retaining slavery) these men faced, all while trying to respect one another as gentlemen, statesmen and patriots. Perhaps 1776 should be required annual viewing for all members of Congress!

For the remaining schedule of free movies at The Forum and the Arena, visit www.BinghamtonSummerFilm.com.

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