At an evening rehearsal at UW’s Buchanan Center for the Performing Arts, the cast of Fascism: The Musical started with some standard warmups, their voices flicking up and down over arpeggios. But once they dug into the meat of the show’s songs, it was clear this is not a standard musical.
There’s the “Socialism Polka,” women in American flag bikinis, and a song about trickle-down economics that likens the idea to bodily functions.
“I guess one of its next-door neighbors would be South Park. It definitely lives in that zip code,” said Seán Stone, the composer and musical director of Fascism: The Musical. It’s true; the show being put on by the University of Wyoming Department of Theatre And Dance leans left politically, and is pretty raunchy and irreverent.
“But you know the things we’re talking about is the destruction of American ideology and you can’t give that too much reverence. You can’t give that too much solemnity, because God who’d want to watch that?” said Stone.
The comedy revolves around a fictional 24-hour news channel – WOLF News Network. The protagonist, a journalist named Lizzie, organizes a strike to protest the fact that corporate interests and advertisers dictate what they report.
In the first act, the head of WOLF News tries to prove why capitalism works. In the second act, Lizzie flips the script to show the pitfalls of capitalism. The musical’s playwright and director William Missouri Downs said freedom of speech and freedom of the press are both questioned in the show.
“So we have songs that make fun of trickle-down economics. Songs that make fun of socialism. We have songs that make fun of guns on campus, the student loan debt crisis,” said Downs.
In other words, nothing is off limits.
“It’s very satirical. We make fun of everybody and hopefully if you laugh enough you’ll relax enough to have a conversation,” Downs said.
The show may make fun of everyone, but it does portray a particular point of view: that economic fascism exists in the United States.
“We’re a fascist state. Now we’re not a dictatorship, the other meaning of the word. And we try to bring that out and let people know that private entities, individuals, and corporations have more power and more say in your life than the government does,” said Downs.
This is Wyoming, however, and there are a lot of students in the program that are not on board with the show’s message. Some, in fact, were hesitant to audition in the first place, including Jordan Clark. She described herself as politically conservative.
“I just have a different set of political values that contradict with what the show’s trying to say,” said Clark, sitting in the cast’s green room.
As a musical theatre major, Clark said she felt obligated to at least audition, but as opening night approached she wasn’t as worried.
“I’m feeling a lot better than I did because we’re starting to get more solid. I told my parents not to come so they are not coming. But that’s ok. I have my best friends here who will be coming to the show and I’ve been telling them what’s going on and they know what to expect,” said Clark.
UW assistant professor Kevin Inouye is co-directing the show along with Downs. He said with its potentially controversial material, a protest piece like “Fascism: The Musical” will test many different boundaries at the University, and for that reason, they have kept campus administration in the loop about the content of the show.
“We don’t want to take anybody by surprise. We don’t want them hearing from somebody else out of the blue that we’re going material that is going to get a bunch of people up in arms. Which, again, I don’t think it will. So we have tried to keep those lines of communication open,” said Inouye.
Fascism: The Musical opens November 14.