The Gershwins and Political Satire

Kaufman turned to Tin Pan Alley himself for a highly ambitious project with the composer/lyricist team of George and Ira Gershwin. The 1927 show, Strike Up the Band, was an aggressive political satire on American government with a strong anti-war sentiment. It closed out-of-town, prompting Kaufman's oft-quoted remark that "satire is what closes on Saturday night."

Ira Gershwin with pipeIra Gershwin with pipe In 1930, with Kaufman's blessing, Morrie Ryskind softened the book's tone and changed much of its structure, and the revision gave the Gershwins the Broadway hit that had eluded them three years before. Strike Up the Band set the tone for the four collaborators' next musical, a groundbreaking masterpiece that made American theater history.

Of Thee I Sing put presidential politics center stage, spoofing the electoral process and the tenuous tenets of American governance. The integration of the libretto and score were more seamless and sophisticated than had been seen on the Broadway stage before, a fact recognized by the Pulitzer Prize committee when they awarded the 1931 show the first Pulitzer ever given to a musical (although the musical contributions of George Gershwin were ignored by the committee).

The quartet's next attempt, a sequel entitled Let 'Em Eat Cake (1933), brought the characters of Of Thee I Sing face-to-face with the implications of international fascism with a shrillness that intimidated audiences. Unlike its predecessor, it was not a hit and has never had a successful revival.