Huffpost Arts
George Heymont Headshot

Dealing With Conservative Politicians

Posted: Updated:

On November 23, 1959, a musical opened on Broadway that told the story of one of New York City's most beloved political figures: Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia. Not only did "the Little Flower" (who used to read the comics over the radio) get an airport named after him, with a score by Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick -- who also wrote the songs for Tenderloin (1960), She Loves Me (1963), Fiddler on the Roof (1964), The Apple Tree (1966), and The Rothschilds (1970) -- Fiorello! went on to win the 1960 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

This delightful musical which starred Tom Bosley has a superb score but is rarely revived. The great irony here is that one of the show's main themes (the struggle of the disenfranchised to fight against corrupt and bigoted politicians) has never lost its punch. In 2008, the following video (using one of the show's hit songs, "Politics and Poker") was posted on YouTube during the Presidential elections.

With a clown car full of Republican candidates heading toward the primary in hopes of becoming the party's nominee for the 2012 Presidential election, is it any wonder that the following videos have gone viral?

* * * * * * * * * *

San Francisco's 2011 Mayoral race is turning out to be every bit as crazy, comical, and contentious as the recently televised Republican debates. That's one reason I was delighted to encounter campaign material hawking Spencer Blackhart for Mayor, who boasts that "This election is about convictions and, if you look at my record, I have far more than any other candidate!"

The night I encountered Blackhart, he was holding forth at the Exit Cafe during the recent San Francisco Fringe Festival, while reminding the public that:

  • If San Francisco owns the Golden Gate, there's no good reason to let all of those ships sail over to Oakland for free.
  • With regard to our education system, Spencer Blackhart will leave no child behind -- he'll have them all shipped over to Iraq.
  • Spencer Blackhart will use the free market to bring San Francisco back to economic health by selling the animals in the San Francisco Zoo to the highest foreign bidders.
  • Spencer Blackhart will sell all of the drugs that have been confiscated by the San Francisco Police Department to willing consumers at market prices.

In the following clip, Blackhart explains some of the racist and otherwise ridiculous positions which he is confident will make him our next Mayor:

* * * * * * * * * *

Self-righteous conservative bigots litter the landscape of literature as well as real life. However, none of them get quite the magical comeuppance reserved for Missitucky's big man in Congress, Senator Rawkins.

The closing production of the 2011 Woodminster Summer Musicals season, 1947's Finian's Rainbow deals with racism in a novel way. The corrupt blowhard manages to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when someone standing too close to a pot of gold stolen from a leprechaun wishes that the Senator could become black so that he could experience first hand what discrimination feels like.

In one of the loveliest pieces of stage business in all of musical comedy, there's a puff of smoke and the white Senator is replaced by a black man wearing an identical costume. Talk about an identity crisis!

2011-09-21-blackandwhitesenator.jpg

Greg Carlson appears as the white version of Senator Rawkins while
Michael LeRoy Brown is the black version of Senator Rawkins
in Finian's Rainbow (Photo by: Kathy Kahn)

There's a lot of magic and old-fashioned blarney in the plot of the popular musical written by E.Y. "Yip" Harburg and Fred Saidy, with music by Burton Lane. There's also a series of grand songs, including "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" "Look to the Rainbow," "Old Devil Moon," "If This Isn't Love," and "When I'm Not Near The Girl I Love."

2011-09-21-ogsharon.jpg

A leprechaun named Og (Tyler Kent) falls for an Irish lass named Sharon
McLonergan (Juliet Heller) whose father (Gene Brundage) has stolen a
pot of gold from Ireland in Finian's Rainbow (Photo by: Kathy Kahn)

While the musical has numerous romantic subplots, its satirical jabs at corrupt, racist politicians have lost none of their sting. The scene in which the Senator's assistant, Buzz (Brian Dauglash) instructs a black college graduate in how to shuffle properly when delivering the Senator's drinks remains a classic.

2011-09-21-shufflingwithsenator.jpg

Howard (Jerold Bolden), Senator Rawkins (Greg Carlson), and Buzz
(Brian Dauglash) in an ironic moment from Finian's Rainbow
(Photo by: Kathy Kahn).

Tyler Kent's portrayal of Og and Gene Brundage's crusty old Finian McLonergan laid on as much Irish charm as possible. However, even with Bay area regular Tom Reardon portraying Woody Mahoney (a union organizer), this production was most notable for the sweet, shining voice of Juliet Heller's Sharon McLonergan.

2011-09-21-woodysharon.jpg

Tom Reardon and Juliet Heller starred in the recent revival of
Finian's Rainbow (Photo by: Kathy Kahn).

To read more of George Heymont go to My Cultural Landscape