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'Caucus: The Musical!'

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'Caucus: The Musical!'

Arts & Life

'Caucus: The Musical!'

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ALEX COHEN, host:

Back now with DAY TO DAY.

Next week is the Iowa caucuses. It will raise the curtain on the 2008 presidential election season. They are also the inspiration for another curtain-raising event "Caucus: The Musical." The original musical review opens today at the State Historical Building in downtown Des Moines.

NPR's Scott Horsley has this preview.

SCOTT HORSLEY: For months now, Iowans have been on the receiving end of a political song and dance from the presidential candidates. "Caucus: The Musical" is a chance to give something back.

(Soundbite of musical play, "Caucus: The Musical")

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) (Singing) When the temp is nearing 10 below that's when you know it's time to go to Iowa. Every four years it's the hottest spot to while away each boring winters day. Hey.

HORSLEY: The show is the creation of playwright Robert John Ford, an Iowa native who came home four years ago from a stint in California anxious to concentrate full time on his writing. It didn't take long to find something to write about since the 2004 caucuses were in full swing.

Mr. ROBERT JOHN FORD (Playwright; Composer): I mean I had it completely from beginning to end in my head. It was one of those things were I finally did put it down on paper it came out very quickly. It was one of the quickest processes I've ever had.

HORSLEY: The play tells the story of an Iowa farmer, Eldon Wise, who is discovered by a New York Times reporter in a diner, where else? The reporter profiles Wise and his family as typical Iowa caucus goers.

(Soundbite of musical play, "Caucus: The Musical")

Mr. GREG MILLAR (Stage Actor): (As Eldon Wise) (Singing) This here is Lori. She's writing a story about how we Iowans choose our national leaders to share with the readers. I guess we'll consider it news.

HORSLEY: Just many real Iowa voters, Eldon and his family become political celebrities. Ford says the presidential candidates are desperate to win their allegiance.

Mr. FORD: The candidates realized if we can get this guy, we're going to get Iowa. And whoever wins him is going to win the state. And so they all start to fight to win his vote. Then it gets more and more absurd - what they won't and what they'll stoop to try to get his vote.

(Soundbite of musical play, "Caucus: The Musical")

Unidentified Man #1: (As Character) (Singing) Eldon.

Unidentified Man #2: (As Character) (Singing) Eldon.

Unidentified Woman #2: (As Character) (Singing) Eldon.

Unidentified Man #1: (As Character) (Singing) Eldon Wise. Eldon.

Ms. JENN MILLER (Choreographer, "Caucus: The Musical"): Okay, that was good. Let's go back to the beginning.

HORSLEY: On a chilly weeknight in Des Moines, the cast is rehearsing. Choreographer Jenn Miller belongs to the candidates through a musical number in one room, while director Tony Humrichouser reviews a scene with the Wise family in another.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TONY HUMRICHOUSER (Director, "Caucus: The Musical"): Good. Good. Let's do it one more time and then we'll do…

HORSLEY: Some Iowans were concerned at first that the Wise family might come off as rubes. But playwright Ford says not to worry.

Mr. FORD: In fact the family is extremely educated, very knowledgeable, very informed on the issues, the candidates. They are truly the wise family. And the candidates are the buffoons. You know, they're the comic relief in this play.

HORSLEY: The candidates include the Reverend Stanley Jensen, an arch conservative minister. Senator Nora Halliday, an African-American woman who's dead set against the war. Benjamin Goldman, a young gay liberal. And Senator Harrison Tate.

Mr. FORD: Someone once refer to him as sort of having the good looks of Mitt Romney, the command of the English language of George Bush, and the sex drive of Bill Clinton.

HORSLEY: Ford is quick to add, these characters were created four years ago, so any resemblance to the current crop of contenders is purely coincidental.

The candidates get their rigorous policy screening that Iowa voters are famous for.

(Soundbite of musical play, "Caucus: The Musical")

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) (Singing) Three say we need healthcare. But one says heal thyself. Three will tell you, NAFTA, they got from Santa's elf. Three support the right to choose, the other pro-life, and the one believes we have the right to make a guy named Joe his wife.

HORSLEY: With so much to choose from, the Wise family winds up as splintered and polarized as the American electorate, but not for long.

Mr. FORD: We have 12 songs in the play, 11 of them are very upbeat, silly, fun - but there's one song that is what I called the anthem. And it's this song where everyone sort of unite. It's what we all really want for America, is finding this common ground.

(Soundbite of musical play, "Caucus: The Musical")

Unidentified Man #3: (As character) (Singing) What I want is to be a family, even though we disagree now and then.

Mr. FORD: Really, that's when the play goes from all the absurdity to focusing on the serious aspect of the, you know, in the middle of all this. It's sort of - this is critical. This is our life. This is our future that we're voting on.

(Soundbite of musical play, "Caucus: The Musical")

Unidentified Group: (As characters) (Singing) What we want is a leader who will hear what we hope for, what we feel everyday. What we want is a leader on our side who will be a perfect guide.

HORSLEY: And sure it is a process might sometimes for descend Iowa's starring role in the presidential election, if only because the people of his state take their responsibility so seriously.

Mr. FORD: We are stuck indoors a lot in the winter. This is a diversion for us to get out and make these candidates and actually participate in this process. There might be some candidates that would be very happy we'd go to a different system because they will never be scrutinized again the way they are here in Iowa.

HORSLEY: Ford has adopted his play for a New Hampshire audience which took some doing since caucus and primary don't rhyme. With a little luck, "Caucus: The Musical" will also have another run this summer at the National Political Conventions which is more than you can say for some of the candidates now tromping through the Iowa cold.

(Soundbite of musical play, "Caucus: The Musical")

HORSLEY: Scott Horsley, NPR News.

(Soundbite of musical play, "Caucus: The Musical")

Unidentified Group: (As characters) (Singing) When you got to win that wake up show, that's when you know it's time to go to Iowa. 'Cause before a show gets started you must suffer through a lengthy overture.

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