It’s America’s birthday, y’all! The best day of the year to celebrate history by getting drunk and blowing stuff up. (Besides flag day, of course.)
While you honor this great nation by trying not to cause a forest fire with Roman Candles and downing Natty Ice, we’re going to honor her by putting together a little list of musical theater’s best and brightest political agitators.
The Bros from 1776 (1776)
John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock—to name but a few—are not just any revolutionaries, yo. These homies are the reason we’re even celebrating July 4th to begin with, and thus, obviously deserve the first spot on the list. Especially Thomas Jefferson, who is our favorite because… he plays the violin? Oh! And also, because he wrote basically the most perfectly crafted literary syllogism/important piece of political prose ever. All while singing tunes like “But, Mr. Adams” and “The Egg.” Badassery all around, no?
Tracy Turnblad (Hairspray)
Tracy’s answer to the world’s basic inequalities is pretty simple: They can GTFO. Whether she’s subversively dancing the size-ism, racism, and lookism out of the universe, or single-handedly improving the self esteem of the human race, politics and social issues are no sweat for Tracy Turnblad. As they generally aren’t for people with fierce talent, a progressive mindset, and a supportive mom.
Fela Kuti (Fela!)
With an ant-colonial feminist activist for a mother Fela Kuti—whose birth name is so long we can’t even begin to type it–was basically born into activism. He is perhaps best known as a musician who pioneered Afrobeat music, which he used to agitate against the Nigerian government. Needless to say the government didn’t much like him, and began launching regular attacks on his commune/recording studio/nightclub/compound the Kalakuta Republic. Eventually the military would murder his mother and destroy the Kalakuta, and then blame an unknown soldier? Fela’s response? To deliver his mother’s coffin to the leader of the military, write some angry songs, marry twenty seven women, and incite riots with his bombastic performances. We don’t really understand the 27 wives part, but otherwise, color us impressed.
As if being 100% green wasn’t edgy and boundary pushing enough, Elphaba, or Elphie—the Wicked Witch of the West, to you—had to go and be a) naturally magical b) an animal rights supporter and c) totally unable to bear the Wizard’s corrupt government silently like a good little citizen of Oz. Elphie also follows her heart to defy gravity and fly on a broom/cherry picker while belting her face off, bags the handsome prince before turning him into a Scarecrow, and ultimately escapes death by slipping down a trap door instead of melting into a puddle like L Frank Baum always told us she did. We’re inspired. Aren’t you?
Though never referred to by name in the show, our Che—who may or may not be based on the real life revolutionary Che Guevara—dogs Santa Evita like a particularly sarcastic shadow, telling the audience all about how effed up her motivations are. We’re not sure if this is designed to motivate audiences into rioting, because… that seems a bit late in the game at this point, but… we do like that he sings beautiful songs while commenting on the political realities of the Peron regime in 1946 Argentina. Also, we like that Che once earned Mandy Patinkin and Tony Award and currently takes the form of Ricky Martin, who runs around on stage looking suspiciously fit and fiery hot in a snug white Henley. Which is what all the hottest revolutionaries wear, don’t you know.
Her time might have been the sixties, but a hippie girl marching on Washington to protest the war? Sounds kind of… contemporary. Sheila –- and her friends –- would have fit right in with today’s Occupy movement. She’s smart, socially aware, and politically active. And in truly modern fashion, this powerful gal can undoubtedly do better than her loafer boyfriend…
Enjolras (Les Miserables)
Another political beast of a character that is basically never named in the libretto—sometimes, someone shouts his name exactly one time during the show, and no, it’s not in orgasmic ecstasy—Enjolras is the leader of Les Amis de l’ABC. He’s also beautiful, singularly dedicated to making political changes in France, and prepared to belt his face off while dying upside down on a barricade. Without ever having sex. Which is… kind of depressing, given his totally titillating commitment to freedom and handiness with fire arms. It’s okay though. Because he gets to sing the most rousing anthems in the whole damn show. And be played by every hot blonde actor we can even think of, from David Thaxton to Aaron Tveit, so his memory will always live on in our hearts.
Jack Kelly (Newsies)
The biggest challenge of life: Unionize some 12-year-olds. That’s no probs, though, if you’ve got glittering charisma, swagger for days, and can belt a G. When newspaper bigwig Joe Pulitzer tries to raise the price of papes to his New York newsboys, Jack is on it. He forms a union, organizes a strike, dances a little bit, gets a girlfriend, and emerges triumphant. All in a day’s (fair, regulated, safe) work.
Bobby Strong (Urinetown)
How serious is Bobby Strong about the right to pee for free? He gets himself killed for it. Before that, though, he even turns down a bunch of sweet cash and a cute girl. Clearly, the man means business when it comes to the freedom to do his business. Not like we’re surprised, though. Flag-waving Enjolras is his hero, after all. Sort of.