Tiffani Barbour revels as‘1776’ custodian

Dennis J. Freeman
4 min readApr 27

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Tiffani Barbour revels as‘1776’ custodian

LOS ANGELES (News4usonline) — Actress Tiffani Barbour plays the character Andrew McNair in the hit Broadway stage play “1776,” now playing at the Ahmanson Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. It is the first time in her 26 years working as a union actor that Barbour has played a historical figure.

“I never played someone who was a historical figure,” Barbour said in an interview with News4usonline Editor Dennis J. Freeman. “He worked the First and Second Continental Congress. In those years, he was the custodian at the Congress. He lived in Philadelphia. He was married. He dies in Philadelphia.”

Actress Tiffani Barbour plays the character role of Andrew McNair in the touring Broadway musical “1776.” Courtesy photo

McNair is an unusual historical figure. The custodian to the First and Second Continental Congress, McNair was someone who sort of blended his way into the history books. He was there, but he was not there.

Some historians suggest that more than likely it was McNair who rang the Liberty Bell once the nation’s Declaration of Independence was signed.

We do not know that for sure. History also doesn’t record where McNair is buried. But we do know of McNair is that he had a hand in just about everything regarding Congress for the 18 years he served. Let’s just say that was always around.

“He rang the Liberty Bell. We don’t know if he rang it when the Declaration was signed,” Barbour said.

Barbour has very few speaking parts as McNair, but you see her all over the stage. If there is a document to be signed or if there is a need for something to be facilitated between the Founding Fathers, Barbour as McNair makes sure she is in the mix. That’s the kind of responsibility McNair undertook: Be present but be invisible.

For nearly 20 years, that’s what McNair did. It is interesting to see Barbour navigate the stage as part of the “1776” cast as a major presence, but have a minimum speaking part.

Despite the lack of a considerable speaking role, Barbour is wonderful as a working-in-the-shadows McNair. Interestingly enough, when Barbour auditioned for a part of the production, there wasn’t one particular character she read lines for.

“When I went in for the audition, I originally just auditioned for a bunch of characters,” Barbour said. “It wasn’t anything specific. I got a callback for a couple of more characters. Again, nothing specific. I think they wanted the people. They wanted to cast the people, and then with characters in mind, but knowing they wanted to work with a certain group of people. So I had a callback and I went in for a couple more people.”

(Left) Tiffani Barbour and (center) Brooke Simpson as and the National Tour Cast of “1776.” “1776” plays at Center Theatre Group / Ahmanson Theatre April 11-May 7, 2023. Photo credit: Joan Marcus

After making the cut to land a spot in “1776,” Barbour learned that she would be playing McNair. Once she found out the role she would be playing, she dug in trying to get to know the character better.

“Once I found out that was going to be Andrew McNair, I watched the movie, the original show, and I saw who he was, and on paper, he doesn’t seem like a lot, but he’s always around and what’s pretty funny is how much he does without doing a lot of talking,” stated Barbour. “He doesn’t take any sides, and I said, this is kind of me. It’s actually kind of Tiff. This is kind of me. I appreciate him, for sure. I’ve been playing him for almost a year.”

Initially, Barbour questioned whether being a cast member in “1776” would be the right fit for her.

“When my agent sent me the call for the show at the time, it said an all-female version of 1776,” Barbour said. “I saw 1776, and I knew the show. I saw it as a kid and I was bored to tears. So when I saw that I wondered, ‘How am I going fit? This Black woman from Baltimore. How am I going to fit into 1776?’ But I was intrigued.”

To execute his role as the custodian or doorkeeper of the First and Second Continental Congress for as long as he did, it is assumed that McNair would have had to be an even-keel guy. It certainly fits the description of Barbour’s personality.

“I’m definitely middle of the month Libra,” said Barbour. “I’m mutual. I don’t like confrontation. I kind of like everything. I’m not very opinionated. I’m very like a middle-of-the-road- type of person. I’m one of those people who try to get along with everybody, listen and try to keep things as light as possible.”

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Dennis J. Freeman

The storyteller. More than a journalist. I write about sports and social justice. Editor of News4usonline.com and Black Sports United. Howard University alum.