Broadway fans learned last week that the Tony Awards will be going virtual this year, which prompted some of us to think about the musicals we'd love to see on stage now, had COVID-19 not put the theater world on pause.
With the Republican convention coming up this week, we thought it'd be a good time to revisit some musicals whose themes are particularly resonant in the age of Trump. Here's 11.
Some would say the title alone makes this musical, which opened on Broadway in 2011 and was inspired by a Green Day concept album, particularly relevant in the age of Trump. But the show also features several themes that are germane to the current political environment — including nihilism, the noise that saturates visual culture, and the ways some people who have more than others nonetheless view themselves as victims.
Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson
Native Americans have called out the show’s offensive stereotypes, and it’s a musical that’s rarely performed. Even so, it’s worth noting that Trump chose to hang a painting of Andrew Jackson in the Oval Office, signaling that he identifies with a populist president renowned for his violence against Indigenous people. The musical based on the life of America’s seventh president opened on Broadway in 2010.
Inspired in part by the Puccini opera La Bohème, Rent opened on Broadway in 1996. Created by Jonathan Larson, it imagines a group of bohemian artists struggling to survive in New York City amid the HIV/AIDS crisis. The musical explores poverty and homelessness as well as police harassment and protesting during a time when political leaders were ignoring a public health crisis — something many would say Trump's administration is doing with COVID-19 today.
Famed musical theater duo Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty found inspiration in Horton Hears a Who and other tales by beloved children’s author Dr. Seuss. Their musical premiered on Broadway in 2000, with songs that celebrate “the thinks you can think” and the idea that “a person’s a person no matter how small.” Only Horton listens hard enough to hear tiny creatures in distress, reacting with compassion that stands in stark contrast to the cruelty Trump’s own sister has named among his many flaws.
The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee
Imagine Trump performing in a middle school spelling bee, and you’ll appreciate why this musical is a good fit for the current age. It's filled with characters whose own stories mirror Trump's in some way, from children pressured by parents to succeed in traditional ways to a former spelling bee champion turned realtor and spelling bee moderator. The musical opened on Broadway in 2005, 12 years before Trump’s famous “covfefe” tweet.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
It’s difficult to consider the main character Quasimodo without recalling the way Trump mocked a reporter with a joint condition that impacts his movement during a 2015 rally. This musical also addresses prejudice against the Romani people, which has clear parallels in Trump’s approach to immigration. The musical, which features music by Alan Menken and lyrics of Stephen Schwartz, is based on both the 1831 novel by Victor Hugo and the 1996 Disney film. So far, it hasn’t been performed on Broadway.
The Music Man
We’ve got trouble: That’s the message a con man named Harold Hill brings to the people of a small town in this Meredith Wilson musical that opened on Broadway in 1957. Hill insists that creating a band is the only way to keep the town’s boys out of trouble, then sets about selling the parents musical instruments and uniforms he never intends to deliver. When the school board questions Hill’s credentials, it’s an easy mental jump to the hucksterism of Trump University.
The Scottsboro Boys
The Scottsboro Boys is based on an Alabama court case involving nine Black teens accused of raping two white women on a train in 1931. All-white juries convicted the teens in a series of rushed trials, although convictions were overturned and pardons were issued many years later. The musical, which premiered on Broadway in 2010, prompts memories of Trump calling for the death penalty in the case of the Central Park Five, and his refusal to admit his mistake even after the teens accused of beating and raping a jogger were exonerated by DNA evidence.
The Will Rogers Follies
While some wish Trump would stop talking and tweeting altogether, others appear to share an approach captured in this musical’s song titled "Give a Man Enough Rope," which implies that some people are plenty good at landing themselves in trouble without much help from others. The musical, which explores the life of renowned humorist Will Rogers, opened on Broadway in 1991. Coincidentally, Rogers was asked to run for president, but never did. Set against the backdrop of the Ziegfeld Follies, the show also echoes the reality-show nature of Trump’s political career.
Imagine a water shortage so severe that there aren’t any private toilets. Instead, a giant corporation regulates public toilets, where people have to pay to pee. That’s the gist of this musical about the haves and the have-nots, which opened on Broadway in 2001. It’s a tale of greed, corruption, and short-sighted public policy that resonates in the Trump era in part because the blame doesn’t lie merely with the corporate and political leaders who monetize human needs, but also with those who enable them.
Based on Gregory Maguire’s novel, which retells Frank L. Baum’s renowned story of the Wizard of Oz from the witches’ perspectives, the Stephen Schwartz musical opened on Broadway in 2003. It’s easy to see the racism of the Trump era reflected in reactions to Elphaba’s green skin, and the way a university’s sole animal professor is silenced. But there’s also the moment the Wizard of Oz is outed as a mere man pulling levers behind a curtain, rather than the all-powerful being that led many a follower to compromise their morals.
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