Friday, October 22, 2004
More on Hooray For What's History
"HOORAY WHAT WHAT! originally opened on Bway in December, 1937. The show quite explicitly deals with the worsening state-of-affairs in Europe through the prism of an isolationist America — although an America quite willing to make a buck off the European situation!
And, you have to remember that this show was conceived by, the writing of its libretto guided by, and its lyrics written by Yip Harburg, who was a good, old-fashioned 1930s left-wing liberal. In other words, I think he was really just a couple of notches away from being a socialist, so the show absolutely had a political agenda.
The “anti-war” nature of the piece feels less unusual to me, however, than the satirical — but quite specific — indictment of war-profiteers. In this age of Halliburton et al, that part feels rather prescient...although war profiteers have obviously been around as long as war has. But for a main-stream musical comedy in 1937, the fact that the show did indeed have a social agenda was unusual.
Several late-30s Broadway revues had left-leaning social agends (not specifically anti-war, necessarily) and Kurt Weill’s JOHNNY JOHNSON had presented a strong anti-war tale almost exactly a year before HOORAY FOR WHAT!. JOHNNY JOHNSON was not a success, though. I think one of the reasons HOORAY may have gone down easier with the public is that it is not a "dark" show as JOHNNY JOHNSON was. HOORAY has some scathing things to say, but with a lighter touch (most of the time) and is also — in addition to being a satire and a farce — something of a fantasy. There’s no magic or otherworldy element to the piece, but it definitely has a "fantasy" quality to it.
When a show ends with war being wiped from the face of the earth by laughing gas, what else can it possibly be but (unfortunately) a fantasy.
In fact, I think this may be one of the reasons that HOORAY ultimately disappeared for such a long time. By the time the show’s very successful Broadway run was over in mid-1938, the situation in Europe had become so tense that any extended life for the show (i.e. a long tour, regional or amateur productions) would have required major rewriting. The show was too on-the-money for it to be funny any more. By the time the nature of what the Nazis were actually up to became clear, HOORAY's deux-ex-machina — a death gas capable of exterminating thousands — would have been impossible to present."
So let's review: prescient about war profiteering today and about mass extermination soon to come back in its day. It sounds like it will be a bit eerie to see. But I can't wait, for that very reason.
I've been looking everywhere trying to buy the script for "Hooray for what," but it's eother out of print or i'm not looking in the right places. If someone could email me either if they have it, or where it is, that would be great. My address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm not going to perform it, i just wanted to read it.