January 4th, 2008

Beautiful Iowa Waltz

Caucus! The Musical

The sheer amount of attention which Iowa voters get pre-caucus is extravagant. We can all meet most of the candidates personally if we want to. Several times. Our answering machines are stuffed with messages and our mailboxes with fliers. Caucusing is very much a neighborhood event, and if your neighbors get behind a particular candidate enthusiastically, you'll know it. They'll call you to promote their candidate - as neighbors, they say, not as politics. And all of this happens a week to months before other states are ready to start dealing with the process. It's decadent not having the precedent of other states to help sway voters, but it's really quite silly just how much attention we get - especially this year.

And that's why Caucus! The Musical was written. It's the story of the fictional Wise family, statistically typical Iowas, who are the subject of a series of articles by a New York Times reporter. That attention means they become THE voters whom the leading four candidates of both political parties try to attract to their cause over the course of the months and days leading up to the caucuses. It's a funny take on everyone's worries, from the stresses of the system-gaming politicians to the stress of a family under too much attention. Along the way, we also meet the candidates' campaign managers, the waitress at the local café, and an out-of-job factory worker. Radio ads - too true and very wrong - for the candidates intersperse the acts. It's a plot with twists, with a lovely narrative tidiness, and not too much character development.

Staging was simple and effective, and costuming aided in keeping the cast straight, but light design and operation was occasionally ineffectual. Gina Gedlar, playing the waitress, was the vocal standout of the cast, with the rest generally delivering their songs solidly. Good song titling included "Anything for a Vote" and "The Tough Question Sidestep" (a song-and-dance number). At the moment, though, "One Happy Family" is the only song whose tune I can still remember. Tunes were accessible, with a live band accompanying, hidden behind the raised platform on the stage.

Best of all were the lines and lyrics, densely full of references to presidential candidates past, the importance of pronouncing Dubuque correctly, and skewering both major political parties. It's endearing without being cute, sometimes educational, and almost always irreverent.

The musical's on until January 13th (the day before the caucuses were originally going to be held!) at the State Historical Museum.