Well, it looks like Donald Trump is going to be our next president. Everyone has their own coping mechanisms. If you’re a musical theatre aficionado, use these showtunes to help you deal with the next four years.
Fun fact: in the original staged version of the show, the song opens with a bunch of audio clips from various reality TV shows from the era in which the musical is set. One of those clips is—you guessed it—President-Elect Trump saying his catchphrase, “You’re fired!” It’s eerily prescient, especially given the song’s lyrics, like “Don’t want a nation under the new media” and “Welcome to a new kind of tension / All across the alien nation,” and the scarily relevant, “I’m not a part of a redneck agenda / Now everybody do the propaganda / And sing along to the age of paranoia.” Green Day’s album was released in George Bush’s America, but it could easily be about Donald Trump’s America.
A genocidal maniac who tried to forcibly remove an entire minority population, rose to power on a wave of populism, and promised to defend the common man against wealthy bankers: sound familiar? While this description does apply to Donald Trump, it also describes Andrew Jackson, America’s seventh president and the face on the $20 bill (for now, at least). Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman’s musical about him, which opened on Broadway in 2010, imagined him as an emo punk, and the opening number, “Populism Yea Yea” is, again, an alarmingly accurate description of Trump’s America: “We’re gonna take this country back / From people like us who don’t just think about things / People who make things happen. / Sometimes with guns” and “Take a stand against the elite / They don’t care anything for us” and “We’ll take the land back from the Indians / We’ll take the land back from the French and Spanish / And other people in other European countries / And other countries too / And also other places / I’m pretty sure it’s our land anyway.” Jackson was a terrible president, who was responsible for the Trail of Tears, the Nullification Crisis (aka the time we almost had a civil war before the Civil War), and a major financial crisis in 1837, so it’s not like a Trump presidency is without precedent.
Spring Awakening is a rock musical that takes place in 1890s Germany—so the musical’s teenage protagonists were adults in Nazi Germany. Fun fun. 1890s Germany was a pretty repressive place, where girls died from back alley abortions and parents shamed and physically abused their children. When things go from bad to worse, the show’s protagonist bemoans his situation: “There’s a moment you know / You’re fucked.” The choreography for the number involves a lot of jumping around, including on and off of furniture. Crank the song up, jump around, and exorcise those Trump demons.
This is actually a monologue from Hamlet jumbled around and set to music, but the song’s placement in the show comes after the characters go through the horrors of the Vietnam War. It’s a nice reminder that even in the darkest of times—and even when the air is toxic to breathe—there’s still beauty in the world, and humankind has limitless potential for good. At the end of the song, the characters editorialize on the Bard’s words: “How dare they try to end this beauty?”
Eva and Juan Peron rose to power in Argentina on the promise that money would flood the nation. And for a bit, money did roll in. Whether the Eva Peron Foundation was a front for money laundering is up for debate. Che (who may or may not represent Che Guevara, depending on the production of the show), sings, “When the money keeps rolling out you don’t keep books / You can tell you’ve done well by the happy grateful look / Accountants only slow things down, figures get in the way / Never been a lady loved as much as Eva Peron.” Take that as a cautionary tale of what might happen under a president who loves conflicts of interest.
Newsies is based on the actual Newsboys’ strike of 1899, in which a group of kids in New York went on strike to force their media mogul bosses (Pulitzer and Hearst) to pay them fair wages. As they prepare themselves for the upcoming strike, they sing, “Courage cannot erase our fear / Courage is when we face our fear / Tell those with power / Safe in their tower / We will not obey!” It’s a good reminder that remains relevant today.
In the musical Ragtime, the character of Coalhouse Walker has had a pretty rough time. He’s a black man fighting for his place in the society of 1910s America, and the love of his life was killed at a vice presidential rally by overzealous Secret Service men. But he’s still full of wisdom, which he imparts with the audience. “Go out and tell the story / Let it echo far and wide/ … / How justice was our battle / and how justice was denied / … / And say to those who blame us / for the way we choose to fight / that sometimes there are battles / which are more than black or white.” Though the show was written in the 90s, and set in the 10s, it sounds like a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement—a sentiment that’s underscored by the fact that Coalhouse is killed by the police immediately after this song.
Sometimes, you need an upbeat song to motivate you to effect change. “You Can’t Stop the Beat” is just that—it’s the kind of song that makes you want to dance, but the lyrics are all about acceptance, both of yourself and of the progressive changes society is undergoing. The cast cheerily reminds us, “You can’t stop the river as it rushes to the sea / You can try to stop the hands of time, but you know it just can’t be!”
“My Shot” from Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton lived in a world and a society he didn’t like, under an oppressive, insipid king. But does Hamilton, the future founding father, sit back and accept it? Of course not! He’s not going to throw away his shot to change his newly-formed country. His refrain: “I’m just like my country / I’m young scrappy and hungry / And I am not throwing away my shot.” Later, John Laurens (who tried repeatedly to lead a brigade of black soldiers into battle) reminds the audience, “When you’re living on your knees, you rise up / Tell your brother that he’s gotta rise up / Tell your sister that she’s gotta rise up / When are these colonies gonna rise up?”
Katie is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. She loves musicals, superhero movies, and romantic comedies, and can be found on Twitter @kbuenneke.