You said it, Isaac.

Okay, guess I'm going to do this. Let's mix it up a bit now, kids.

I'm going to talk to you today about showtunes. Specifically, we're going to discuss The Hoedown.

As ex-Wall of Voodoo frontman Andy Prieboy explained in his brilliant, hysterical White Trash Wins Lotto*, every musical has that one song, that one musical number that justifies the genre’s reputation for hokeyness, best exemplified by the song “Shapoopie” Shipoopi in The Music Man. Apparently, everything was going along fine, and then BAM! We're forced to endure the horror that is "Shipoopi", because every musical has a hoedown.

In an episode of Sports Night, Aaron Sorkin furthers this idea:

Dana:  (tries to hand tickets back)  These are wasted on me, Isaac.  You should give these to a theatre lover.
Isaac:  You should become a theatre lover.
Dana:  Oh, I've tried, I've really tried.  But the singing and the dancing and there is oftentimes a hoe-down --
Isaac:  There's no hoe-down.
Dana:  Don't tell me there's no hoe-down, mister, I've been there.
Isaac:  Enjoy the show.
Dana: (starting to leave)  I'll enjoy it for my niece.
Isaac: Enjoy it for yourself.
Dana:  I appreciate the tickets.  I'll be back at seven. (leaves)
Isaac: (to self) Nothing wrong with a good hoe-down.

At first I thought that this hoedown thing was a myth perpetuated by the very existence of Oklahoma, which, if I’m not mistaken, consists of almost nothing BUT hoedowns. (I don’t really know, as I’ve never been able to sit through it; Rodgers and Hammerstein ain't my bag.) After a little thought, though, I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s basically right. Not every musical has an out-and-out hoedown, to be sure, but most musicals contain a hoedown-esque number, a raucous, celebratory romp involving most of the cast.

Most composers and lyricists attempt to hide the nature of their hoedown, twisting it darkly as Jason Robert Brown does with "Where Will You Stand Where the Flood Comes?" in Parade, or turning it into a '60's rock-and-roll danceathon as Marc Shaiman does in "You Can't Stop the Beat" from Hairspray, but a couple of my favourite hoedowns don't attempt to disguise their hoedowniness. Therefore, I'm going to dare you to stretch your patience a little and try out The Ballad of Czolgosz, Stephen Sondheim's hoedown number about the assassination of President McKinley from his brilliant, underappreciated Assassins, and Stephen Trask's Sugar Daddy from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

Ain't nothing wrong with a good hoe-down. (And, yes, that's Doogie Howser, M.D. singing the Assassins song; you can't appreciate musicals if you don't have a healthy appetite for camp.)

*based on the life of Axl Rose, one of the funniest theatrical experiences of my life; I can still see Patton Oswalt stumbling across the stage in his cameo as Slash, clutching a bottle of booze during the song “A Mansion Full of Pussy and Drugs”; it is one of musical theatre’s greatest losses that a cast album of this was never made.


Blogger d said...

well, oklahoma's got a couple of non-hoedowns (spelling?), surrey with the fringe on top is sort of a jaunty I got a sweet ride song. & that song the inbred sings, jeb is dead or joe is dead or whatever the heck it is...that is one strange number. & come to think of it so is the ballet. well, he was sondheim's sugar daddy, right? there's got to be something underneath all that relentless cheer.

on a related matter, the only time I ever acted like an actor was when me & my friend josh a. would sing "unworthy of your love" (to the uninitiated, also from "assassins". it's the love duet from john hinkley & squeaky fromme to their respective objects of desire, foster & manson) & we'd have a ball screaming "jodie/charlie daaaarling" out on the street. sondheim cracks me up.

11:52 AM, March 25, 2005  
Blogger Tavie said...

I do confess a fondness for The Sound of Music... and they were very influential on Sir Steve.

I love the image of you singing "Unworthy of your Love". I always have to sing both parts myself, no one I know cares to learn it.

12:35 PM, March 26, 2005  
Blogger d said...

aah, that's the beauty of this here opinion collective. now you know another sondheim freak & I can think of another future contributor who can join us on a possible sing along.

12:54 AM, March 27, 2005  

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