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If you’ve got a pulse and access to the Internet, you know about Hamilton, the hip-hop retelling of the life of America’s first treasury secretary. And while its music may be transforming Broadway, playwrights have looked to political figures for inspiration since Shakespeare first penned a drama about a king named Henry. With All the Way, Robert Schenkkan’s examination of Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, opening at Arena Stage on Friday, we consider a few local politicos whose stories also deserve the stage treatment.
Like Hamilton, Wilson’s story ends in death, and his wise political maneuverings and loyal friendships make him the ultimate tragic hero. His past work as an organizer in the civil rights movement gives his American story even more dramatic tension.
Called the “Father of Modern Washington” by some, Alexander Robey Shepherd was a power-hungry schemer who essentially made the city rise with his hands. Make it a jazz hand, bring in some elaborate sets, and you’ve got yourself a wild new musical.
William Howard Taft
With a comic moment already built in (he might have gotten stuck in a bathtub!), the president-turned-chief justice lived enough life for the story to be presented on stage—particularly because he’ll be costumed in his Presidents Race outfit and foam head.
Audiences love shows about big-voiced, politically active Texans (see previous homages to Molly Ivins and Ann Richards). The longtime D.C. councilmember and mayoral also-ran, who coasts around town in a yellow Pontiac Firebird and makes enemies of former allies, has an enormous personality that warrants a play.
From the shadow campaign and his battles with his nemeses Ron Machen and Muriel Bowser, to his subsequent reemergence as a Ward 7 D.C. Council candidate, Vincent C. Gray is the ultimate comeback kid. And it’s about time hand-dancing was celebrated on Broadway.
The stiff Council chairman who aims to restore order in the chaotic chamber makes the perfect candidate for a comedy about the office and city politics that take place at the Wilson Building. When he asserts control, he’ll label himself “a modern Mendo general.”
John Wilson photo via D.C. Council; Boss Shepherd photo via Records of the Columbia Historical Society; William Howard Taft photo via Library of Congress; Carol Schwartz, Vince Gray, and Phil Mendelson photos by Darrow Montgomery