I won't deny it; much of my knowledge of American history comes from musical theatre. And how could it not? Musical theatre history is American history. They're intertwined. They reflect the era they're written in and while commenting on the past, usually for the purpose of asking what it means to be American. In regards to our presidents, musicals run the gamut from making passing references to whichever president is currently in power to wildly inaccurate (yet sometimes very truthful) portrayals of past presidents. So on this Presidents Day, here's a (surely incomplete) list of what musicals feature presidents.
Some interesting things I discovered when making the list:
- No Wilson musicals? I'm shocked. Maybe I'll write one….
- Please share your thoughts about who would write the best Obama bio-musical.
- Turns out the forgettable presidents aren't well represented in musicals. Go figure!
- William Henry Harrison is the first president not present in a musical. Why? He died just a few days in office. His would be a very short musical indeed!
- Yes, even the very recent presidents are in musicals, though mostly they're mentioned but don't appear.
- I didn't include opera (sorry Nixon in China) or pop music (sorry James K Polk and They Might Be Giants).
- Big thanks to Peter Hilliard for his awesome presidents list. It really helped to fill some of the gaps in my own list. And seriously, just read his blog. He's a mad musical genius.
Washington – Mentioned in 1776; Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson; Damn Yankees; Hello Dolly!; How Now Dow Jones; Jamaica; seen in Bless You All; Hamilton; and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
J Adams – Mentioned in Hamilton and Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson; seen in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and 1776.
Jefferson – Hamilton; 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; and 1776.
Madison – Hamilton.
Monroe – 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
JQ Adams – Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson and Happy Days.
Jackson – Mentioned in Jamaica; seen in Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson.
Van Buren – Bloody, Bloody, Andrew Jackson.
Fillmore – Mentioned in Pacific Overtures.
Pierce – Mentioned in Pacific Overtures.
Buchanan – 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Lincoln – Mentioned in Assassins; The Civil War; Happy Days; and The Producers; seen in Bless You All and Gaybraham Lincoln.
A Johnson – Mentioned in Gaybraham Lincoln.
Grant – Mentioned in Redhead; What Makes Sammy Run; and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; seen in Mr. Strauss Goes to Boston and Gaybraham Lincoln.
Hayes – 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Garfield – Mentioned in Assassins.
McKinley – Mentioned in Ragtime; seen in Assassins.
T Roosevelt – Mentioned in Ragtime and Let 'Em Eat Cake; seen in Bless You All; Teddy and Alice; and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
Taft – Mentioned in Parade; seen in Teddy and Alice.
Coolidge – How to Steal an Election.
Hoover – Mentioned in Annie and Follies.
FD Roosevelt – Mentioned in Assassins and First Lady Suite; seen in Annie; Annie Warbucks; I'd Rather Be Right; Teddy and Alice; Flora the Red Menace; Flahooey.
Truman – Mentioned in First Lady Suite; seen in Call Me Madam.
Eisenhower – Mentioned in Jamaica and First Lady Suite; Merrily We Roll Along; Finnian's Rainbow
Kennedy – Mentioned in Assassins; First Lady Suite; Grey Gardens; and Merrily We Roll Along; seen in Bombshell.
LB Johnson – Mentioned in Hair.
Nixon – Mentioned in Assassins; First Daughter Suite; and Merrily We Roll Along; seen in Senator Joe and Vintage 60.
Ford – Mentioned in First Daughter Suite; seen in Assassins.
Carter – Mentioned in First Daughter Suite.
Reagan – Mentioned (and sometimes heard) in Assassins; First Daughter Suite; Doonesbury; and Falsettoland.
HW Bush – Mentioned in First Daughter Suite.
Clinton – Mentioned in Will Rogers Follies; seen in Clinton, the Musical.
W Bush – Mentioned in First Daughter Suite.
Trump – Mentioned in Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels.