Brave, politically minded souls from Hollywood will be winging it to Des Moines in the coming week for the waning days of the Iowa campaign, and they may be surprised to know that they will be there in time for a premiere.
“Caucus! The Musical” will debut on Dec. 27 at the State Historical Museum Theatre. The tuner is a riff on everything that anyone ever thought about Iowa’s exalted status these days, what with the next president of the United States camped out there for the past six months or so. As playwright, composer and lyricist Robert John Ford notes, “Iowans have become accustomed to having future Presidents of the United States serve them pancakes, plow their corn fields, and attend their children’s little league games.”
In the irreverent production, the national media pegs an Iowa farmer and his family as “typical caucusgoers,” and campaigns soon realize that they must do anything, even to the point of desperation, to win their vote.
Even though the characters — played by a team of local performers — are all fictional, there are certainly shades of this year’s field: A woman candidate who has questions planted in an audience; another candidate who seems to flip flop through the issues. Going on through this is the spectacle of gay marriages in Iowa, and an endless war overseas.
Ford says that he actually conceived of the play before the last caucus in 2004 (a premiere reading was performed at the Des Moines Playhouse that year), when he got an up-close-and-personal view of politics. Born and raised in the state, he moved to San Diego in the 1980s to work at the Old Globe Theater, but returned to Iowa five years ago to pursue theater in a smaller market.
He’s since found success as the author of several plays, including “Six-on-Six,” a musical take on girls’ basketball in Iowa; and “The World’s Largest Aluminum Foil Ball,” about what happens when a midwest roadside attraction is listed as a terrorist target.
What influenced his ideas for “Caucus” were the one-on-one interactions that residents have with the candidates. “Not only do we expect it, we demand it in many ways,” he says. “It does make a huge difference.”
He cites his own experience. In the lead up to the 2004 caucus, he at first supported Howard Dean, but says that when he met him he “had a very cold connection.” Then he was impressed by another candidate he saw in person, John Edwards, and thought, “This is a person who I will vote for.”
(Ford says that this year, he’s been leaning toward Clinton, but “If I voted idealistically, I’d vote for Kucinich.”)
It goes without saying that Iowans enjoy such spoils of attention this time of year. The Obama campaign asked Ford’s cast perform before the big Oprah Winfrey-Barack Obama event at Hy-Vee Hall, but they declined. It was their only day off after weeks of rehearsals.
Although the show’s opening, two days after Christmas, would seem to be an odd time to debut anything, it’s not in Des Moines. The city will be populated with political media, strategists, donors, consultants, campaign workers and politicians.
And, knowing that they’ll all clear out come Jan. 4, Ford has adapted his play for New Hampshire, “The Primary Primary!” That day, it starts at the New Hampshire Theater Project in Portsmouth. The state’s voters go to the polls on Jan. 8.