Monday, 15 October 2012

Music theatre Mondays: The mailman won the lottery

Firstly, while we are on the subject of music: check out this Kickstarter! It's for a children's folk album about historical figures (Johnny Appleseed, Harriet Tubman, Che Guevara, etc) that needs a total of $2000 to get off the ground. It's actually passed its goal now, but CD production is always expensive, and it's for a good cause. Go, go, go!

And now, on the other side of the historical figures spectrum: Assassins. I really, really doubt any children's folk singers will be making a CD about these guys any time soon, and that's probably a good thing: I have a high opinion of what kids are able to understand, but tht doesn't mean I want to explain the Manson Family to a three-year-old. Not to mention the questions of didacticism: I'm actually told that some people object to Assassins because they think it's trying to make the audience feel bad for people who want to shoot the President. And . . . I can sort of see it. In just about any work of fiction, with RARE exceptions, you're supposed to feel something for the characters. You don't necessarily have to like them, but you should at least understand what circumstances and personality traits lead them to where they are at the end of the story. I don't think Shakespeare was endorsing regicide when he wrote Macbeth, but if you don't feel anything for him, the play falls apart. Same goes for Assassins: for the most part (I'll get to the exceptions in a minute) you're not meant to view the assassins as people to admire or emulate. They're just . . . people. Deeply flawed, violent people, who make terrible decisions. You know: musical theatre!

The base premise of Assassins, if you're not familiar with it, is this: various murderers or attempted murders of American presidents gather together on the stage- which is set up like a shooting carnival game- to interact and play out their stories. Like First Dance, it's very much a revue show: the assassins don't have a narrative, such as it were, they just sing and interact. This is how you get numbers that would make no sense if the show was trying to be linear ("Unworthy of Your Love," or the one where Lynette Fromme and John Hinckley Jr. sing about their respective objects of creepy, creepy affection) and scenes that, likewise, make no real logical sense- like all of the assassins appearing to Lee Harvey Osward in a dream sequence telling him to shoot JFK.  But for all that the songs are separate from each other, there is a sort of theme going on: disaffection, lack of identity, and the need for connection. Obviously many of the assassins are not the most balanced of individuals- specifically Hinckley, Byck, and Guiteau- but it's surprising, looking at them, how many do what they do because they want to stand for it. Booth, obviously, is standing for the Confederacy. Lynette Fromme does what she does because she thinks it will benefit the Manson Family. Czolgosz and Moore both think their actions will benefit the poor. Zangara was- uh, I don't really know why Zangara does what he does. I don't think the musical does either, because the song dedicated to his actions- "How I Saved Roosevelt-" is about the crowd's reactions, not Zangara himself.

For as much as the show is about the asassins themselves- and they are, obviously, the main focus- the music also does some of the same things Bonnie and Clyde did, in that it uses the building blocks of history to discuss the larger issue surrounding it. As much as I don't agree with the actions of the assassins (seriously, please don't send the Secret Service after me) I do like a lot of what "The Gun Song/Ballad of Czolgosz" has to say. Like B&C, it's about economic justice: specifically, the disparity between rich and poor, the lie of "bootstraps" ("in the U.S.A, you can work your way to the head of the line!") The point of "Another National Anthem," which I quote in this entry's title, is that the assassins "forgot about the country," because they think they're owed attention and adultation. Same with "Everybody's Got The Right," which opens and closes the show. And as awful as the assassins are, they're also oddly pitiable- they're people who think they're lost, and their response to this is to pick up a gun. There's tragedy in that, I think, no matter who you are.

1 comment:

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