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In a Presidential Mood

Filichia recalls musicals that invoke the names of our chief executives and/or use them as characters.

By New York City

George Washington
George Washington
I read on one of the chat boards that George W. Bush was asked to name his favorite musical, and he said Cats. (One wag then suggested that "W's" favorite should be that obscure 1968 off-Broadway show How to Steal an Election. Duly noted!) Well, with Bush's taste being what it is, maybe he won't be honored the way so many other presidents have been honored: by being named in a musical. On this President's Day, let us recall those who have been.

There's Theodore Roosevelt in Teddy and Alice, FDR in I'd Rather Be Right and Annie, and Reagan in Rap Master Ronnie. 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue included Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Monroe, Buchanan, Teddy Roosevelt, and, most deliciously, Hayes and Grant, as their wives bickered at each other--though one delicious woman, Patricia Routledge, played them both. I saw this show during its Washington, D.C. tryout (where I still say it wasn't bad) and my mouth was agape as Routledge switched from woman to woman, having Mrs. Hayes wistfully sing, "Who'd have dreamed I'd be counting my sheep at night where Van Buren and Polk used to sleep at night." (That makes two more presidents we can add to our list.)

Washington functions as a deus ex machina in Rodgers and Hart's Dearest Enemy (soon to get a revival at the Village Light Opera; call 212-243-6281). And though he is only a general in that show, he is invoked as our first president in Damn Yankees, How Now, Dow Jones, Plain and Fancy, and Jamaica. 1776 mentions Washington, shows Adams and Jefferson, and alludes to another future president when Abigail Adams complains that Quincy has the measles; he recovered to become our sixth president, John Quincy Adams. Assassins takes notice of Lincoln, Garfield, McKinley, Taft, Franklin Roosevelt, Hoover, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford, and Reagan--even though not all of them were assassinated. How to Steal an Election features, according to its liner notes, "Andrew Jackson, FDR--in fact, almost everyone except Millard Fillmore." (That's okay; he was mentioned in a more high-profile project, Pacific Overtures, along with Pierce.) But the liner notes didn't lie. A quick listen yielded many of those cited above, as well as William Henry Harrison, Tyler, Harding, and Coolidge--who of course was the subject of a song in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Hoover, needless to say, was indicted in Follies and Annie. His successor, FDR, was mentioned in plenty of shows--what with his long-run--from DuBarry Was a Lady to Call Me Mister. Lincoln did all right, too, with The King and I, Li'l Abner, Hair, and Redhead. The last-named show also drops the name of Grant, who was mentioned in What Makes Sammy Run, as well. In more modern times, Harry S. Truman was cited in Out of This World and Call Me Madam; in the latter, a Truman look-alike even took a curtain call, not long after Eisenhower was feted in the song "They Like Ike." Both of them were mentioned in Mr. President, as was Kennedy, who was also tabbed in Sail Away, Stop the World--I Want to Get Off and Here's Love. His successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, was referred to via his initials, once in How Now, Dow Jones and much more often in Hair.

George Bush? The elder one, that is? Well, he was alluded to in "The Grass Is Always Greener" when that song was used in And the World Goes Round: "Read my lips: boring," sang Karen Mason after Brenda Pressley was impressed at her being entertained at the White House. But that still leaves Madison, Andrew Johnson, and Arthur (unless Liza Minnelli meant him when she sang "Arthur in the Afternoon"). Also missing are Benjamin Harrison, Wilson, Carter, and--could I be right about this?--Clinton. But I have it on good authority that Jerry Herman, in his on-again, off-again Las Vegas show Miss Spectacular, has a lyric about Monica Lewinsky. Does that count?

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[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at pfilichia@aol.com]


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