Exhibit examines mix of theater and politics


With the 2020 presidential election approaching, the Songbook Foundation officials figured it was an appropriate time to address the connection of theater and politics.

Professional exhibit developer Cathy Hamaker was one of several experts who assisted Songbook Foundation Archivist Lisa Lobdell in designing the “Of Thee I Sing: Politics on Stage” exhibit. The Foundation’s Songbook Exhibit Gallery is at the Palladium in the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel. Admission is free to the gallery.

“I love musical theater,” Hamaker said.

So, she embraced the idea of helping with a Broadway exhibit.

“When they told me it was going to be about politics, I was like, ‘Oh that’s challenging.’ The more I thought about it, there are so many musicals that are so much a connection to the time and politics. At first, I was like, what we will talk about besides ‘Hamilton’ to what won’t we talk about. There are so many things to choose from.”

Hamaker said she hopes visitors will be challenged by learning about the musicals.

Broadway shows highlighted in the exhibit include   “Of Thee I Sing” (1931), a Pulitzer-winning blend of romantic comedy and political satire with songs by George and Ira Gershwin; “Camelot” (1960), a retelling of the King Arthur legend that took on political significance when the widowed Jacqueline Kennedy made it a metaphor for her husband’s short-lived presidential administration; “1776” (1969), an unlikely hit among liberals and conservatives alike during a contentious period in U.S. history; “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” (1976), a flop by composer Leonard Bernstein and librettist Alan Jay Lerner that closed within a week of opening; and “Hamilton: An American Musical” (2015), Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop-influenced take on the Founding Fathers, which claimed 11 Tony Awards while addressing contemporary political and social issues.

The exhibit also examines the depiction of war, race and women’s rights in musicals, such as “Hair,” “South Pacific” and “Cabaret.”

“There are opportunities to vote on some of these questions these musical raise,” Hamaker said.

A traveling version of the exhibit is available free of charge for display in schools, libraries and other community organizations.

The exhibit is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Thursday and Friday and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and select Saturdays, and prior to select Palladium performances. Songbook Foundation Executive Director Chris Lewis said weekend hours will be announced in 2020.