Some are more wholly political like Assassins, Of Thee I Sing, Cabaret, Evita, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, or Hair; some only partly so like Purlie, The Scottsboro Boys, Li’l Abner, Camelot, Finian’s Rainbow, Hairspray, or Ragtime; and some even subliminally political like Man of La Mancha, West Side Story, Hands on a Hardbody, or The Rocky Horror Show. But once you look for politics in the musical theatre, you find it everywhere.
For instance, in Annie Get Your Gun, the fierce sexism of the plot and the songs “The Girl That I Marry” and “You Can’t Get a Man With a Gun” are disturbing enough from a modern perspective, but the idea that Annie has to lose on purpose in order to win Frank couldn’t be more abhorrent today. You might argue that we shouldn’t look at old shows through a modern lens, but it was a political choice to tell that story that way with that ending. It mirrored and reinforced the dominant view of gender in America.
Kiss Me Kate swam in the same politics, juxtaposing a fictional, past, male-dominated world against a real world in which women were becoming increasingly uncontrollable. Both shows came at a time when America was trying to wedge women back into their old, prewar subservience. Just a couple years later, women in musicals would start to get stronger, in shows like Pal Joey, among others.
Political trends have been present in almost all musical theatre storytelling over the years. Casts became integrated as America became integrated. Female characters became overtly sexual (in shows like On the Town and Pal Joey) when American women became overtly sexual. Musical comedy morality became more ambiguous as mainstream American culture moved away from the certainties of traditional organized religion. Every choice made by writers, directors, and designers was political, and each choice either reinforced or challenged prevailing social and political values. No, No, Nanette was about wealth and its implications. Anything Goes was about American culture’s preoccupation with celebrity and the growing commercialization of religion. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was about America’s reinvigorated postwar hypermaterialism. It was all political.
So in that spirit, I offer up my own personal reaction to the 2016 election season that has just concluded, in the only language I know. What a blast it is having a front row seat to this amazing pivot point in our political and cultural history! Don't worry, we'll learn to navigate this new age soon enough...
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy my lyric. If it's not obvious, you should sing this to the tune of "The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" and if anyone wants to record themselves singing it for me, that would be awesome! Okay, to be honest, I'd really love for someone to stage and sing this on video and put it on YouTube. Just sayin'.
You can tell whether or not you're a real musical theatre nerd by whether or not you actually sing the song out loud as you read the lyric. You will. So without further ado...
With apologies to Uncle Steve...
A pumpkin face and a doughy rump,
A comic comb-over, swept up front
(A nearly miraculous structural stunt).
He stumbled on, from stump to stump,
Did Donald Trump,
A whiny, (not-really-)rich bitch.
He swore that he would beat this chick,
To compensate for his tiny dick.
No self-awareness or self-control,
The neediest sort of a Twittering troll,
Was Donald Trump,
The crazy, cluelessly kitsch bitch.
Monetize their rage, Donald!
Copyright their gloom!
For your sin,
You'll soon be in
A rubber room!
It's clear Americans have lost;
It cost much more than the price it cost.
He tossed us into the toilet bowl;
He cost us the loss of our national soul.
The game is up and we're the chump.
Thank Donald Trump,
That nasty, carnival pitch-bitch.
Bulls in china shops aren't this bad!
He's much worse than the worst we've had;
Worse than Ben Carson,
Worse than Ted Cruz,
Ask all the people he constantly sues.
Cheats employees and vendors too,
Steals like repeat offenders do.
Donald was deft, he saw his moment.
He hid his cash in his hair when he'd comb it.
Donald! Donald! Donald! Donald! Truuuuump!
Attend the tale of Donald Trump.
He found a shitload of sharks to jump.
He plays with fire, we get burned;
But lucky for us, there's a lesson we learned:
Be more than
That tiny man,
Long Live the Musical!