Today is Election Day here in the United States. I voted via absentee ballot several weeks ago, so I have done my civic duty. And it appears that a record number of Americans have done/will be doing the same thing.
In preparing my Musical Theater History & Performance Course: From Tin Pan Alley to Today, I discovered that twelve musicals have won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, 11 on Broadway, one off-Broadway (the most recent one, A Strange Loop).
The first Broadway show to win a Pulitzer Prize was George & Ira Gershwin’s Of Thee I Sing, with a book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. It is a political satire about about the battle between political idealism and incompetency/corruption. It has kind of a reality show subtext, with the president choosing a potential FLOTUS from a nationwide competition – although he winds up choosing a nice girl instead of the beauty queen. It was a critical and box-office hit, which surprised its entire creative team. However, since the Pulitzer is a literary award, George was not included in this honor; he did receive an honorary Pulitzer in 1998, on the centenary of his birth.
The story focuses on a presidential campaign run on the “Love” platform, with one of the catchphrases (and songs) being “Love is sweeping the country.” And, ultimately, love triumphs.(What a concept, am I right?)
It was considered the Gershwins’ most musically sophisticated show. When I listened to the following promotional video from a 2004 revival at Paper Mill Playhouse, I thought, “I hear G&S….” and then when I dug into the show further, I found that, yes, G&S was a partial inspiration for the show. But the title song is all Gershwin and is absolutely lovely.
The most recent Broadway musical to win the award was Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. I don’t think I need to tell anyone reading this what that’s about but in case you haven’t been paying attention, the musical tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and his role in establishing this country, from the early days of the Revolutionary War through the establishment of the Constitution, the presidency of George Washington, the elections of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, and his eventual death at the hands of then-Vice President Aaron Burr. The musical also draws upon stylistic influences from traditional musical theater to British invasion pop to R&B, soul, and hip-hop.
This video, from the 2017 Tonys, is introduced by President Barack Obama and FLOTUS Michelle Obama, and they summarize what the show is about and what has kept this country going for all these years. The performance that night begins with George Washington’s song, “History has its eyes on you.” And it does.
The world will never be the same.
Vote. If you aren’t old enough to vote this year, vote as soon as you can. Study the issues and make your own decisions, and think of how your decision will impact everyone, not just yourself.
History has its eyes on all of us.