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A Playlist for Election Night

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Andy's given us the chance to write about whatever's on our minds. I'm thinking about the elections and politics.  Now, when it comes to politics in modern day musicals, they tend to be left-leaning (The Cradle Will Rock, Billy Elliot) or satirical (Of Thee I Sing, The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas) or cynical (The Scottsboro Boys, Parade). 

The rebellious 60’s, Viet Nam, and Watergate pretty much took care of the flag waving of George M. Cohan (Little Johnny Jones) or Irving Berlin (Mr. President), but as I think about all of this I want to try to create a “fair and balanced” playlist for Election night.

“Prelude” to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Well it’s a bit heavy with which to start playlist but Leonard Bernstein’s moving score carries the weight of what voting actually means and why it isn’t to be taken lightly or ignored.

“Ragtime” from Ragtime. One of the great musicals of modern times, in this epic Ahrens and Flaherty opening number we get a mini-portrait of the issues which divide America - race, privilege and immigration. To quote from another musical: “In 50 years or so, it’s gonna change ya know”

“Sing Me a Song with Social Significance” from Pins and Needles. Harold Rome’s bright and funny revue written for the ILGWU, proved so popular that it moved from the Union meeting hall (formerly the Princess Theatre) to Broadway in 1937. In honor of its 25th Anniversary Columbia Records made a studio recording of the show featuring an actress who had just made a splash in another Harold Rome show I Can Get It for You Wholesale: Barbra Streisand.

“Republicans” from Infinite Joy. Parental Discretion Advised. I adore Bill Finn, the man, and his work. This song is from a recording of a series of concerts he did with a sterling supporting cast at Joe’s Pub. It’s hilarious and undoubtedly true.

“The Affluent Society” from I Had a Ball. Those of us who know “I Had a Ball” spend our time extolling the glory that is Karen Morrow; but elsewhere on the recording is the great Richard Kiley and a 60’s left-wing satirical score by Jack Lawrence and Stan Freeman. It’s not nearly so dated as we’d like to believe.

“Politics and Poker” from Fiorello!. Everything I ever needed to know about the American political system is contained in two show-stopping Bock & Harnick classics from this Pulitzer Prize-winner (“Little Tin Box” is the other.) Listen and learn.

"The Room Where It Happens" from Hamilton. Would a political playlist be complete without a number from this multi-award-winning musical? Of course not. And this number perfectly sums up one aspect of the "art" of making a political deal (regardless of the time period).

“Rumblin’ and Rollin’” from Parade. There’s a lot of thematic ground covered in this show and that, in part, is what makes Jason Robert Brown’s score so remarkable. While the subject matter is a total downer (yes, I just described the Leo Frank case as “a downer”), the score is lively and passionate. It pulsates to the rhythms of its individual characters. And in this number we discover what’s underneath a seemingly calm community.

“The Sidestep” from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. My understanding is that in Texas, when you fill out the forms to run for office, you have to recite the lyrics to Carol Hall’s biting vaudevillian ditty.

“Here Lies Love /Finale” from Here Lies Love. And now for something completely different. David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim’s take on Imelda Marcos owes a lot to Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita (which owes a lot to the genius of Harold Prince) but no matter who they owe what to (Hey Alex Timbers!) the fact is “HLL” is the liveliest and most innovative musical show album in a long, long time. And in Mr. Timbers' athletic production you the audience, experience political manipulation first hand.

“Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina” from Evita. More women in power.

“Where Do I Go?” from Hair. The American political landscape is probably at its most divisive since the Civil War, more so because instant communication and knee-jerk response is so easy. Issues are not as black and white as political pundits would have us believe, and yet those seem to be the choices we are given. I look at this haunting song from Hair as a plea for some sort of clarity in times that are all too confusing.

“This is a Great Country” from Mr. President. I can’t end on a note of despair. Irving Berlin’s musical is an easily dismissed, silly show that trivialized everything serious going on in the US at the time it was produced (1962). Its attitude was patronizing to the young and self-aggrandizing to the older folks, a sort of musical theatre comfort food before revolutions took place inside the theatre and out. However hokey the conclusion it came to was at the time, it’s a conclusion that we all want to believe about our country. So with a nod to the past and prayer for our future, I’m giving it the final slot.


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