On this day, sixty years ago, Republicans celebrated President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s upcoming birthday with a star-studded televised tribute on CBS. As part of his re-election campaign, Ike Day was a nationwide celebration of Ike: communities held dinners and parades, there were special halftime shows at college football games, and volunteers collected thousands of signatures from citizens pledging to vote.
“In America,” the filmmaker Francois Truffaut once wrote, “politics always overlaps show business, as show business overlaps advertising.” Indeed, as the Republicans and Democrats head into the fall campaign, the spectacle of celebrity politics will be on full display.
The astounding success of Hamilton, its capacity to engage audiences from third graders to the president and first lady, reminds us that Broadway musicals have a healthy tradition of mining political history. From 1776 to Evita, songwriters have been fascinated by political power. What drives people to become leaders? How do they rally supporters around them? What reservations do they have about their failures and successes?