'Caucus: The Musical' Inspired by Political Stage Robert John Ford, an Iowa native, talks about his irreverent new play, Caucus! The Musical. With songs such as "Anything For a Vote" and "The Tough Question Sidestep," the musical tells the story of an Iowa farm family and the candidates aggressively courting their votes.
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'Caucus: The Musical' Inspired by Political Stage

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Any visitor to Des Moines, a month before the caucuses, arrives in a city crowded with campaign headquarters and satellite television trucks, listens to broadcast crowded with political ads and alternate reality that's now celebrated in a new musical.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. GINA GEDLER (Singer): (Singing) Oh, good Lord, they're on each and every channel. These candidates on both the left and right. It won't be long before their campaign infomercials preempt my "Cops" and "Wheel of Fortune" every night.

All their lies, all their tricks, all their vanity soon will make me lose what's left of my sanity. They'll now tax my hard-earned wealth to ensure my mental health. For free, I declare.

CONAN: That was Gina Gedler, singing one of the songs from "Caucus! The Musical." The show opens at the end of the month right here at the State Historical building in Des Moines. It's the creation of Robert John Ford, a native Iowan and he joins us now.

Thanks very much for being with us on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. ROBERT JOHN FORD (Creator and Director, "Caucus! The Musical"): Thank you for having us.

CONAN: And what's the genesis of the "Caucus! The Musical"?

Mr. FORD: I first became aware of the role that Iowa plays in the presidential selection process when I was an Iowa teenager, and Rosalynn Carter made a surprise visit to our high school. And ever since that, the idea about writing a play about the caucuses has been brewing in my head. And it wasn't really until about seven years ago that I finally sat down and started writing the script. And because the politicians are engaged in so much song and dance, I knew it had to be a musical.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: As I understand that the plot focuses on one family torn apart by the caucuses.

Mr. FORD: Absolutely. What happens is a reporter chooses a local farmer and his family to observe over the course of several months and their - how they choose their political - their preference for the candidate of their choice. And as the months progressed, each member of the family goes in a very different direction and elsewhere, the family is torn apart by the candidates in the entire process.

CONAN: And I assume, along the way, hilarity ensues.

Mr. FORD: We hope so. Absolutely.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: There's a lot of fun in this show.

CONAN: And are you a regular caucuser yourself, and does hilarity ensue in those meetings?

Mr. FORD: I am a regular caucus-goer and I think that it's such a circus-like atmosphere and it's a very surreal experience if - for those people that have not experienced a caucus. It can be funny, it can be overwhelming. It can be disturbing. And all those things we hope to capture onstage.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And you call it crazy, yet you must kind of love it, too.

Mr. FORD: Absolutely. I think everyone in Iowa takes this responsibility very seriously. We are very well-informed. We try to meet with the candidates one-on-one. We expect to meet with the candidate one-on-one. And we have the opportunity to really scrutinize them in a way that other than on the NPR debates that debates don't necessarily accomplish.

CONAN: We're talking with Robert John Ford, the creator and director of "Caucus! The Musical." And you're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And why don't we hear another selection from "Caucus! The Musical." This is a tune called "Anything for a Vote."

(Soundbite of song "Anything for a Vote")

Mr. GREG MILLAR (Singer): As sure as the swallows return to Capistrano, every four years, the politicians return to Iowa.

Ms. GEDLER: Swallows? Ha. It's more like locusts, devouring everything in their path.

Mr. MILLAR: Well, I'll tell you what, I learned a long time ago, they need us more than we need them, so you might as well take advantage of the situation.

(Singing) I remember back in '84, I went to open up my door, and there stood Walter Mondale in my yard. He'd been there since the break of dawn, that's when he mowed and raked my lawn, and walked and fed my lazy St. Bernard. When I got past the initial shock, I look back at the kitchen clock, and saw that it was time to milk the goat. I handed him the milking pail 'coz I was certain without fail, he'd do anything for a vote.

Ms. GEDLER: A heck all, then that ain't nothing. Listen to what happened to me.

(Singing) It was caucus week in '88, when Mike Dukakis stopped by late and asked what can I do to earn your trust?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GEDLER: (Singing) I said for starters, you can clean behind that soda pop machine. Get rid of all that grime and all that dust.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. GEDLER: (Singing) As he was scrubbing down the floors, and went dusting the cafe doors, I sat back and enjoyed a root beer float. Why tell him I'm Republican until he got the dishes done, anything for a vote.

Mr. MILLAR and Ms. GEDLER: (Singing) Anything for a vote.

Mr. MILLAR: Bill Bradley washed my pickups.

Mr. MILLAR and Ms. GEDLER: (Singing) Anything for a vote.

Ms. GEDLER: (Singing) Steve Forbes cured my hiccups.

Mr. MILLAR and Ms. GEDLER: (Singing) Iowans know well that a candidate will sell his soul to earn one measly caucus vote.

Mr. MILLAR: Well I've got a story to beat them all.

Ms. GEDLER: All right, tell me about it.

Mr. MILLAR: (Singing) It was January '92, upon the ground, the snow was new. And so I went outside to clear the walk. As I was humming a Garth Brooks song, a big stretched limo pulled along and out popped Jessie Jackson sat to talk. He said, mister, put that shovel down, there are no chain gangs while I'm in town. So step inside relax, take off your coat. He paid a white man to clear my snow, that white man's name Ross Perot. Anything for a vote. Bruce Babbitt cleaned my chimney flute.

Ms. GEDLER: (Singing) John Kerry polished all my shoes.

Mr. MILLAR: (Singing) Paul Tsongas drove me to Wal-Mart.

Ms. GEDLER: (Singing) I got massaged by Gary Hart.

Mr. MILLAR: (Singing) Al Gore rotated all my tires.

Ms. GEDLER: (Singing) Bush Jr. settled several flours.

Mr. MILLAR: (Singing) Buchanan let me pray with him.

Ms. GEDLER: (Singing) Bill Clinton taught my kids to swim.

Wasn't that just great?

Mr. MILLAR: Yeah.

Mr. MILLAR and Ms. GEDLER: (Singing) Anything for a vote.

Ms. GEDLER: This year, they'll be more funny.

Mr. MILLAR and Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Anything for a vote.

Mr. MILLAR: This year, they can paint my awning.

Mr. MILLAR and Ms. GEDLER: (Singing) Better make a list or two 'coz those candidates will do anything for a vote.

CONAN: That was Gina Gedler, again, along with Greg Millar and Ben Hagen on piano. We thank them all very much for coming in today to perform some tunes from "Caucus! The Musical." And Robert John Ford, this is clearly an exploration of America's deepest, most heartfelt feelings.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: Absolutely. And you can tell we take this very seriously. No, we're having a lot of fun with the show and we want to point out that yes, there's a lot of humor in the political process here in Iowa, but there's a few serious moments in the play as well that we want to make sure that we emphasize that we do take this seriously.

CONAN: And when does the play open again?

Mr. FORD: We begin performances on December 27th. We run through January 13th, which was formally the previous night before the caucuses. So…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FORD: …we continue going our original run.

CONAN: Scheduling problems…

Mr. FORD: Absolutely.

CONAN: …afflict everybody. Well, thanks very much for being with us. Good luck with the show.

Mr. FORD: You bet, thank you.

CONAN: And again, a reminder to our listeners that tomorrow, we're going to step aside, as National Public Radio news, NPR News, and Iowa Public Radio bring you a Democratic presidential candidates' debate. Seven of the eight candidates will be here to answer questions from Robert Siegel, Michele Norris and Steve Inskeep. Tune in for that. TALK OF THE NATION returns on Wednesday.

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