In an interview with The AV Club, William Daniels discusses several projects he’s done in his career, including “The Graduate,” “St. Elsewhere,” and his role as John Adams in one of my all-time favorite musicals, “1776” (which I have written about many times)…
Somebody sent me a script, and it was in the middle of the Vietnam War, and I thought, “This is ridiculous, doing a play about our country and waving a flag when we’ve invaded a place where we shouldn’t have gone and lost all those lives.” But Bonnie [Barlett, Daniels’ wife] said, “But Bill, you can play this part,” and I suppose, without admitting it, that I probably subconsciously knew I could. So reluctantly I went in, because they wanted to hear me sing, and I went to the 46th Street Theatre… and the door was locked. So I thought, “Oh, well, that’s that!” And I went to get on the M104 [bus], but I thought, “Bill, listen: You really ought to call your agent.” So I called my agent, and she says, “Where are you? They’re waiting for you!” She was up in arms. It turned out they were at the Ziegfeld Theater. So she said, “Take a taxi, I’ll pay for it!”
So I get there, and they just laughed it off and said they wanted to hear my voice. I think they knew they were going to be using me anyway, but they wanted some reassurances for the composer and so forth. I had done a musical called On A Clear Day You Can See Forever, and there’s a song in there called “Wait ’Til We’re 65,” so I sang about four bars of it. And then I said, “You know, I can’t remember the rest of it!” [Laughs.] But they said, “It doesn’t matter, Bill.” So, indeed, I was cast, and on the first day of rehearsal—of course I’m still thinking this is a bad idea—I get there, and here were all these gentleman who were [playing] the members of Congress. I’m reading through the script, and I read, “By God, I have had this Congress,” which is the little monologue Adams does in front of the curtain before it goes up. And suddenly, after I finished it, this huge sound of male voices—in harmony—sings “Sit Down, John.” And I thought, “Jesus, guys, this sounds good. This may be something.”
We went to Boston, and the critic had reservations about the show. Then we went to New Haven, and there was a huge snowstorm, so we never did see any reviews. It wasn’t until Washington, D.C., when I guess the entire Congress came out that we had something on our hands here, because we played to packed houses. Ted Kennedy came backstage with his kids, and it was a big thing in Washington, naturally, because of the flag-waving. So we went to Broadway and I actually didn’t realize what good reviews we had until just recently. So that was the beginning of it, and I stayed with it, perhaps too long. Over two years. Maybe a couple of months over two years. And it was the best role I’ve ever had. And the most satisfying, because of the way it was appreciated by the audience.