- Bobby Smith as Thomas Jefferson, Geoff Packard as Liberty Smith, Christopher Bloch as Benjamin Franklin and Donna Migliaccio as Betsy Ross, with Kelly Karbacz (background) in the Ford’s Theatre world premiere musical Liberty Smith, directed by Matt August. (Photo by T. Charles Erickson)
Send Forrest Gump to Bunker Hill, and you've got Liberty Smith. The world premiere musical takes a look at the life of a character forgotten by history — George Washington's childhood frenemy, who is revealed to have influenced history more than all of our founding fathers combined. Liberty Smith (Candide's Geoff Packard) is a poor but smart boy growing up in the shadow of Washington (Gregory Maheu), who has a big crush on a social-climbing minx named Martha (Lauren Williams), soon to acquire a famous surname. Why poor Martha Washington's reputation was chosen to be sullied by this mean-girl plotline is completely arbitrary, but necessary: She sends Liberty on the fool's errand of liberating the colonies from the British.
Of course, he succeeds, and we learn that Liberty Smith is behind most of colonial America's most pivotal events: The chopping down of the cherry tree, the discovery of electricity (A funny reverie in which the electrocuted Liberty finds himself surrounded by angels with kite wings), the Boston Tea Party, the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, and Ben Franklin's meeting with Louis XIV. Most of the opportunities to insert topical political barbs are wasted — this is a children's musical, after all — with the exception of one "fair and balanced" jab at Mr. Fox, the town crier (Michael Bunce). And while Liberty shapes our country, Martha's spurning leads him into the arms of Emily Andrews (Kelly Karbacz), niece of Betsy Ross (Donna Migliaccio), who is smart enough to stand toe-to-toe with him as an equal.
Liberty Smith is entertaining, but bland — leaving the theater, I couldn't recall the melodies of any of the songs, which sounded like they had been pushed through a musical theater cookie cutter. "Declarations," in which Liberty, Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson (Bobby Smith) and Betsy Ross hash out the wording of the Declaration of Independence, was vaguely clever, but still not memorable. But that's not as important as Liberty Smith's family entertainment cred, for which it surpasses qualifications: Educational, entertaining, and flashy, with jokes that both kids and parents can appreciate, and gorgeous costumes by Wade Laboissonniere. But on Forrest Gump, and on pretty much every Disney movie ever made, Liberty is quite dependent.