Wintergreen for President: Musical Theatre Presidential Doppelgangers

During recent Presidential elections, many of the candidates have borne the burden of resembling cartoon or sitcom characters. I remember John McCain was often referred to as either Grandpa Munster or Grandpa Simpson, Paul Ryan was Eddie Munster (the widow's peak did it), Mitt Romney was Mr. Burns, Ron Paul was Mr. Magoo...

As my longtime readers know, I'm quite the political junkie, so much so that I often enjoy watching C-SPAN. I also watch a ton of cable political news shows. I realized a while back that most cable news shows are essentially just SportsCenter for political junkies. And watching one of the political news shows this week, a thought occurred to me...

Donald Trump is essentially Caldwell B. Cladwell, the filthy rich, sociopathic antagonist of Urinetown. True, Cladwell is a cartoon character, but so is Trump. But Trump is also Mr. Mister, who pretty much owns all of Steeltown in The Cradle Will Rock. All three of them are rich, completely, comically lacking in compassion or empathy, and endowed with a preternatural sense of self-confidence.

I marveled at the accuracy of my comparisons, but only for a minute, before I realized that, of course, public figures will conform to certain fictional characters. That's the point of fiction, after all, to show us reality, but filtered and focused to help us see more clearly. There's always been reality in the characters of Cladwell and Mr. Mister; it's what makes them interesting and funny characters. That this reality is particularly timely and potent at this moment shouldn't be a surprise. That's what art does.

The more I thought about all this, the more I saw musical theatre equivalents for every candidate running. See if you agree with me...

Hillary Clinton wasn't easy to match up, but I think I found her musical theatre doppelgänger in Mrs. Vernon-Williams, Allison's high society grandmother in Cry-Baby, a little stiff, a little uptight, a little old-school, sure, but good-hearted, empathetic, and willing to evolve with the world around her. Just as Hillary eventually embraced gay marriage, so too does Mrs. V-W (as we like to call her) embrace the Drapes. And vaguely parallel to Hillary's real life politics, as Cry-Baby opens, we think Mrs. V-W is the antagonist, but she ends up being Allison's "Wise Wizard" instead.

Bernie Sanders is the mad genius Dr. Prospero in Return to the Forbidden Planet. He seems a little crazy, but he's really brilliant and knows exactly what's going on; he just doesn't bother with most social niceties. They say there's a Back to the Future musical in the works, so once that opens, maybe I'll change this one to Doc Brown...

Ted Cruz was hard for me. I think he's such a detestable human being, I hesitate to couple him with any of my beloved musical theatre characters. My first thought was Harold Hill (since I can't use Eddie Haskell, since there isn't a Leave It to Beaver musical... yet). It's a decent comparison – both Cruz and Hill know that much of what they're saying is bullshit, but those lies are a means to an end. The difference is that Hill really does have humanity in him; I don't think Cruz does. I can't quite picture Marian Paroo falling in love with Cruz (who bears an unfortunate resemblance to Joseph McCarthy in both his looks and his rhetoric, BTW), can you? He'd probably sell Winthrop into white slavery. No, Cruz is too much of an asshole to be Harold, and weirdly enough, Cruz is also too much of a phony, even for Professor Harold Hill.

Maybe a better fit for Ted Cruz is Bud Frump. Yes, much better.

Marco Rubio might seem like a good match for handsome, all-American John P. Wintergreen, presidential candidate in Of Thee I Sing, but I think Wintergreen is too innocent and decent to match the calculating, triangulating Rubio. A better fit is J. Pierpont Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, dripping with charm and a killer smile, which they both use to manipulate those around them. There's a cocky, college-boy-confidence in both Rubio and Finch that serves them well. And hey, Ponty had presidential aspirations too, right...?

Ben Carson is...who...? Olive Ostrovsky? Brad Majors? Alexander Throttlebottom? Martha Dunnstock? Kristine DeLuca? Judge James Wilson? Sandy Dumbrowski? (I wonder how Carson would look in leather pants and Fuck-Me Pumps.) The more I think about it, the only character who really fits Carson is King Pellinore in Camelot, a decent, nice guy, past his peak, a bit confused, a bit muddled, and most significantly, forever lost. For all his apparent good qualities, he's not someone you'd consider a leader.

Mike Huckabee first suggested to me Marryin' Sam from Li'l Abner, since they're both clergy, but Huckabee would be a Marryin' Sam with a considerable Dark Side. Despite his religious leanings, Huckabee is one of the nastiest, most dishonest of the candidates. So I don't want to do that to Marryin' Sam. Perhaps a better fit is Jonathan Peachum, from Threepenny. Now that I think about it, Huckabee totally seems like a Brecht character.

Chris Christie is clearly Threepenny's hero-villain Capt Macheath, a man who carries the whiff of legitimacy but everybody knows he's corrupt, and also mercurial, insulting, and condescending. He makes things happen through the sheer force of his personality, but only because he's a bully, with virtually no redeeming qualities.

Carly Fiorina is, without a doubt, the ice queen Phyllis Stone in Follies, a stone-cold bitch who says everything with a sarcastic bite (quite often with sarcastic over-enunciation), always seems disappointed in everyone around her, and constantly "performs" Strength and Control. I considered Joanne from Company for this slot, but Joanne is much more passive-aggressive. Fiorina is openly mean, no question, but more sophisticated-mean, like Phyllis, than angry-mean like Joanne.

Jeb Bush is Sheriff Reynolds in Bat Boy, a good-natured, decent, amiable guy, a bit awkward, a tad uncomfortable in his own skin. He's trying his best, which is never quite up to the task at hand. I also considered Charlie Brown for Jeb, but Jeb has won during his career, just not lately...

Rand Paul is Baldwin Blandish in Cry-Baby, the "good kid" who's really a bad kid, petulant, self-aggrandizing, always proper and polite on the surface, but with abhorrent ideas bubbling underneath. Just not someone you want to spend time with. Or maybe he's Chip Tolentino...?

John Kassich is Mr, Panch in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, dorky, awkward, odd, not always entirely sure what's going on. He doesn't really seem like a leader or authority figure, but he hangs in there...

Lindsey Graham is Man in Chair in The Drowsy Chaperone, someone who seems like a decent guy; and no one mentions it, but he couldn't be gayer if he had a dick in his mouth and he was humming the score to La Cage aux Folles. Or maybe Graham is more Edna Tunrblad, to John McCain's Wilbur? Can't you just picture the two of them singing "You're Timeless to Me"...? Or maybe Graham is really a war-mongering version of Mrs. Letitia Primrose, the religious nut, in On the 20th Century...?

How much more fun would the next year be if these musical comedy characters were running for President instead of the real-world politicians...?

As I've thought about all this, it also occurs to me that the Republican electorate, much of which is swooning for Donald Trump right now, also has a musical theatre doppelgänger. Trump supporters are Sandy Dumbrowski, usually doing what they're told but fascinated by Bad Boy Trump in the role of Danny Zuko. All these years, Republican voters have accepted the mainstream candidates forced upon them by party elites, just as Sandy has always done what adults tell her. But GOP voters have shown up in black leather pants this cycle, finally free to express their real feelings.

This was an interesting exercise for me, partly because I love politics, and partly because it reveals to me yet again, how timeless and universal great writing is. We New Liners are very lucky, because we only work on great material, so with every single show we work on, we see real relevance to the world outside. Maybe some of these shows take on extra resonance during certain historical moments, but for the most part, I think it's just that great art stays relevant for a long time. Just look at how relevant many of Shakespeare's plays still are...

Yet another lesson in how storytelling serves and nurtures us. It's a good to be a storyteller. And it's amazing living through this pivotal moment in history... As the Chinese curse goes, "May you live in interesting times..."

Long Live the Musical!


Joey | December 19, 2015 at 2:32 PM

I love these! I'd only make one change: Hillary Clinton as Madame Morrible of Wicked, or perhaps Dolores Umbridge ("No, musicals only." Well, there's A Very Potter Sequel, so there!), both authoritarians who make lofty claims of altruistic goals, but really are more concerned with maintaining their own power and control by any means necessary. The others are all spot-on, though!