In an election cycle like this one, Americans might forget that dysfunctional politics is a national tradition. The theatre department reminds audiences of the timeless absurdity of running for office with its first fall production, award-winning musical “Of Thee I Sing.”
“It’s about the political circus that goes around election time,” director David Williams said. “So even though it was written in 1931, it reflects exactly what’s going on right now and what we’re watching every day and night on the news. It shouldn’t be surprising, and yet it is.”
“Of Thee I Sing,” which opens at the Ring Theatre on Sept. 29, is an election-themed satire written by renowned composers and lyricists George and Ira Gershwin. In 1932, it was the first musical to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
The score is upbeat, like many of George Gershwin’s orchestral compositions, and contrasts with the gravity of the issues.
“Of Thee I Sing” tells the story of John P. Wintergreen, played by junior musical theatre major Daniel Barrett, who runs for president of the United States on the “love” platform and later finds himself in a fierce political mess.
“The show is as much of a gift for our actors as I hope it will be for our audiences,” Barrett said. “Every day we are seeing the most ridiculous, theatrical, presidential race arguably in history. In this wonderful play we are challenging that world and satirizing it on stage.”
Barrett will perform alongside female lead and junior musical theatre major Shannon Booth, who will take on the role of Wintergreen’s wife, Mary Turner.
The musical is considered an important part of theatre history for being the first musical that is completely satirical in nature.
“It pokes fun at the political arena and it’s a spoof,” Williams said. “It’s not heavy, but in many ways, it’s better at telling us about our own political shenanigans than actually listening to the news. It shines a spotlight on the silliness of it all but also the importance of it all.”
Despite its mockery of presidential campaigns, “Of Thee I Sing” has mass appeal. The musical makes no direct references to the ideologies of political parties, ensuring that people of all sides of the political spectrum will be able to enjoy the performance for what it is.
“Even if you don’t know about the politics of the United States, it’s funny, it’s fast, it’s furious, and there’s singing and dancing and silly jokes,” Williams said. “It’s very lighthearted, and it doesn’t take itself seriously although it discusses a very serious topic.”
Williams deliberately planned for the musical to play before the election. In this version of the musical, the cast uses contemporary references as opposed to 1931 references that could be lost on the audience.
“There are things to be learned here,” Williams said. “How a president is made is not necessarily what everybody would hope or wish it was. Politics is inherently unfair. We shine very bright spotlights on all of that.”
“Of Thee I Sing” opens at the Ring Theatre on Sept. 29 and will play until Oct. 8. Tickets are available on the theatre group’s official website and are $10 for UM students, $22 for seniors, UM faculty and alumni and $25 for regular visitors.