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A Herbert Hoover Musical, Inspired by Elvis
From the Wall Street Journal of Tue, 16 Dec 2014 17:12:34 EST
James Barry, Erica Dorfler, Damian Baldet, Talene Monahon and Larry Tobias in ‘Here's Hoover’
James Barry, Erica Dorfler, Damian Baldet, Talene Monahon and Larry Tobias in ‘Here's Hoover’ Joan Marcus

What is it with politics and musicals these days?

In January, the Public Theater will present “Hamilton,” a new musical by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda, about Alexander Hamilton, the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury.

Meanwhile, the theater company Les Freres Corbusier is currently workshopping “Here’s Hoover!”, a musical about the nation’s 31st president, Herbert Hoover. Directed by Alex Timbers with songs by Michael Friedman and a book by Sean Cunningham, it runs through Sunday at the Abrons Art Center at the Henry Street Settlement.

In 2003, Mr. Timbers directed a rock ’n’ roll musical about Warren Harding called “Warren Harding Is a Rock Star,” but he and Mr. Friedman are perhaps better known for “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson,” which presented the seventh president of the U.S. as having “emo” qualities.

Where the idea for a Hoover musical came from is “all such dim history,” said Mr. Friedman. For one thing, Mr. Cunningham said, Mr. Timbers was always interested in Hoover because he’s related to the Hoover family by marriage.

As a president, Mr. Cunningham added, Hoover “was an awesomely awkward human being. It’s just kind of wonderful and uncomfortable.”

“How do you talk about one of the least successful presidencies?” asked Mr. Friedman. Somehow the idea of Hoover having a “comeback special” arose, much like Elvis Presley did in 1968.

“It’s about someone who doesn’t want to be onstage and then pushing them onstage,” said Mr. Cunningham.

The three presented the show in 2009 in La Jolla, Calif., but other projects, including the success of “Bloody Bloody” preoccupied them. This summer, Mr. Timbers suggested they revisit “Here’s Hoover!”

“I was happily surprised,” said Mr. Cunningham.

In general, “shows take forever, and five years is nothing in the life of a musical,” said Mr. Friedman. After pulling it out of the drawer, he realized that half the show was problematic and half was clever.

“It’s sometimes a nice feeling to be surprised that your younger self is smarter than you are now,” he said.

Mr. Cunningham said he believes politicians make good musical-theater subjects because they inspire and frustrate at the same time.

“We want to believe in them while hammering away at them,” he said. “And they’re literally going in front of the people every night.”

Disappointment over recent political figures has only spurred an interest in the subject, Mr. Friedman said. “Everyone is looking at the way our leadership works and confronting the question of: What is this system?”

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