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Hail To The Chief: Top 22 Presidents in Musicals

October 29, 2012

UPDATE: I’ve added the Hamilton Presidents in, finally! And now there are 22.

In honor of this crazy election season, here are 22 presidents appearing in musicals. Herbert Hoover, although mentioned in Annie, Assassins, and Follies, does not appear, so he doesn’t make the cut. It turns out presidents are popular fodder for musicals. Many major writers in the 20th century found presidents interesting enough to write them into their shows.

22) Stephen Decatur Henderson.                                

What’s that you say? Not a real president? Well, he’s the star of Mr. President, Irving Berlin‘s very last musical, about a president who loses his re-election bid. One of his songs is entitled It Gets Lonely In The White House. But as a musical president, he actually has plenty of company, as we shall see.

21) Dwight D. Eisenhower

Ike is the only president to appear in Michael John Lachiusa‘s seminal First Lady Suite. He’s also mentioned in the musicals Jamaica, Merrily We Roll Along, and Finnian’s Rainbow.

20) William Howard Taft

This 300 pound president, who once needed to be greased with butter to get him out of a White House bathtub, only appears in one musical as far as I can tell; the underrated Teddy and Alice, which we’ll run into a few times in this list. (three presidents appear) The music in the show is adapted from John Philip Sousa. Taft is also mentioned in Parade.

19) James Monroe

James Monroe appears in Leonard Bernstein‘s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a number of other presidents. Actually it might be more accurate to say he appears as a number of other presidents, since the same actor plays all of them. He sings a song called The Little White Lie, about America’s trouble dealing with the institution of slavery. In that song, with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner, Eliza Monroe sings:

You knew when you were Washington

How wrong it was to do it.

You knew when you were Adams.

You knew it. You knew it.

As Jefferson you knew it!

As Madison you knew it!

And now that you’re Monroe,

You surely ought to know!

Does anybody else hear the music from You Did It from My Fair Lady in your head while reading that? Don’t worry, Bernstein’s music makes the sing-songy lyric something special.

18) Harry Truman gets props for actually appearing in a musical, making a cameo appearance in a performance of Irving Berlin‘s Mr. President in Kansas City in 1964. Unfortunately, he had to be rushed out of the performance via ambulance when he had an attack of appendicitis. A Truman lookalike appeared breifly at the end of Irving Berlin’s Call Me Madam, in which Ethel Merman played an ambassador.  Truman is also a character in a musical that rehearsed for a Broadway opening, but never actually opened, called Senator Joe. A musical about Senator McCarthy, it was improbably written by Tom O’Horgan, who had directed Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar. It seems to have been something of a rock musical. If that sounds intriguing to you, head on over to you tube and type in Senator Joe First Act Finale. There you’ll hear a bootleg of part of first orchestra reading. Makes you want to hear what Truman sounded like…

17) Ulysses S. Grant appeared in a 1945 flop, Mr. Strauss Goes to Boston. He was played by Norman Roland, who would later get a bit part in the original production of Candide. Grant is also mentioned in Redhead, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and What Makes Sammy Run?

16) Rutherford B. Hayes appears in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where he takes the oath of office accompanied by an obbligato of the departing and future first ladies.

15) Calvin Coolidge appears in the 1968 musical How To Steal An Election, where he sings a song entitled Charisma. The soundtrack can only be heard on vinyl,  but for presidential music buffs, it’s worth trying to find it, because it combines new songs with real historical campaign songs. 

14) James Madison appears in act 2 of Hamilton. He’s consistently in ‘the room where it happens’, but you kinda miss Hercules Mulligan.

13) John Quincy Adams appears in the 1919 musical Happy Days, but I get the impression it was a brief appearance, since the cast also included Napoleon, Henry the 8th, Madame Butterfly, Little Red Riding Hood and Sappho. He gets better play 9 decades later in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. (Martin Van Buren appears too)

12) You’d think Ronald Reagan would appear frequently in musicals, being such an iconic figure. As far as I can tell, he appears only as a voice in Doonesbury, and in the aforementioned Senator Joe. He’s also mentioned in Assassins and Falsettoland. But Reagan appeared in the 1943 film This Is The Army, which had an Irving Berlin score, and that has to count for something, even though he doesn’t sing.reagan-leslie

11) Richard Nixon appears with the others in Senator Joe, and Vintage 60, which ran 8 performances. He is mentioned in Merrily We Roll Along. He’s also a major character in the John Adams opera Nixon in China, but that’s off topic.

10) Gerald Ford appears as a character in Assassins. I figured it was only right to put him after Nixon on this list.

9) William McKinley appears as a character in Earl Carroll’s Sketch book of 1935, where he was played by Arthur Griffin, who originated the Doctor in the first production of The Skin Of Our Teeth in 1942. McKinley is also referred to in Assassins and Ragtime, in both cases referring to his assassination.

8) Thomas Jefferson appears as a character in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and in 1776. In 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he sings an ingenious March, The President Jefferson Sunday Luncheon Party March. I can’t get enough of this quirky tune.

In 1776 he sings quite a bit: Here are some clips from a very good production:

Of course, Jefferson is also portrayed spectacularly by Daveed Diggs in the original cast of Hamilton

7) John Adams also appears as a character in 1776 and is mentioned in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, although Abigail Adams gets the big song of the evening “Take Care Of This House” He’s also referenced in Hamilton. Here is a cut number from the show, which will remain on this page until the link goes dead:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oUI8b17YGx8

6) Andrew Jackson is the president most recently incarnated in the musical Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Not your grandma’s musical president, to be sure:

He’s also mentioned in the musical  Jamaica.

5) John P. Wintergreen is the hero of the Gerswhin musicals Of Thee I Sing and Let ‘Em Eat Cake. This makes him one of the only characters in a musical to appear in a sequel, but that’s not the only great thing about John P. Wintergreen. The original Wintergreen and his Vice President Throttlebottom (yes, you read that right) were played by the legendary William Gaxton and Victor Moore before they appeared in the original Anything Goes.

gaxton-moore

Wintergreen has the best campaign theme song ever:

“He’s the man the people choose

Loves the Irish and the Jews”

4) Teddy Roosevelt is the title character of Teddy and Alice, where he was played by Len Cariou. You old timers don’t need me to remind you he was in Sweeney Todd,   A Little Night Music, and Applause. For you kiddies, he’s on TV in Blue Bloods, as the old dude. Teddy also appears in Bless You All, where he was played by Robert Chisolm, who played Macheath in the original 1933 Broadway production of The Threepenny Opera. In 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, he sings To Make Us Proud, at the very end of the show. Oh, yeah. He was also in Earl Carroll’s Sketch Book of 1935, and the Gershwins mentioned him in Let ‘Em Eat Cake, the sequel to Of Thee I Sing.

3) Abraham Lincoln appears in Bless You All, as a voice in Frank Wildhorn’s The Civil War, Earl Carroll’s Sketchbook of 1935, and Happy Days from 1919. He is also mentioned in The Producers, Jamaica, and Assassins, naturally.

2) George Washington appears as a character in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, where he helps select the location of the country’s capital. I don’t think this is how it went down, but it makes for a good scene. I’m sad that this show flopped so badly.

Washington is an unforgettable character in Hamilton, where he acts as a mentor to Alexander Hamilton and ‘teaches ’em how to say goodbye’

He also appears in Bless You All, Rodgers and Hart‘s Dearest Enemy, Morton Gould‘s Arms and the Girl, Dance Me A Song, and Earl Carroll’s Sketch book from 1935. He is mentioned in Damn Yankees, How Now Dow Jones, Jamaica, and probably innumerable other lyrics.

1) Franklin Delano Roosevelt is the commander in chief of musical presidents. He appears as an important character in Annie and its sequel Annie Warbucks. If that weren’t enough, he is the subject of Rodgers and Hart‘s musical I’d Rather Be Right, which ran when FDR was in office, and starred the legendary George M. Cohan, who wasn’t actually an FDR fan, really.

I'd Rather Be Right.jpg

He’s also a character in Teddy and Alice, Art Carney played his voice in Flora The Red Menace, and he appears as a puppet in Flahooley. He is referred to in Assassins.

Did I miss anybody? Are my facts off? I’m sure you’ll all let me know. And get out there and vote!

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2 comments

  1. McKinley and Garfield appear onstage in “Assassins”. Both are shot. Theodore Roosevelt is in “Tintypes”, but that’s off-Broadway.


  2. […] Bill and Hillary Clinton in the recent Clinton: The Musical, examples are everywhere (check out this great list of Presidents featured in […]



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