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Of Thee I Sing

1 Center Green, Carmel, IN 46032



August 11 to November 30

With a momentous national election just a year away, the Great American Songbook Foundation has assembled an interactive historical exhibit exploring the intersection of politics, patriotism and entertainment in the world of musical theater – and it didn’t start with Hamilton.

Of Thee I Sing: Politics on Stage is on display in the Foundation’s Songbook Exhibit Gallery, housed at the Palladium concert hall at the Center for the Performing Arts. Admission is free to the gallery, which is open weekdays, select Saturdays and prior to select performances at the Palladium.

Broadway shows highlighted in the exhibit include:

  • Of Thee I Sing (1931) – a groundbreaking, 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 heavy-handed flop by composer Leonard Bernstein and librettist Alan Jay Lerner that closed within a week of opening;

  • Hamilton: An American Musical (2015) – Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop-influenced take on the Founding Fathers, which claimed 11 Tony Awards while tackling contemporary political and social issues.

The exhibit also examines the treatment of war, race, women’s rights and other issues in musicals such as Hair, South Pacific and Cabaret; the work of musical satirists like YouTube star Randy Rainbow; and the well-known Broadway and Tin Pan Alley composers who wrote campaign jingles and patriotic songs over the years. For example, in a project presaging the civic-minded Schoolhouse Rock animations of the 1970s, lyricist Hy Zaret (“Unchained Melody”) authored a political songbook for kids in the 1950s titled Little Songs for Busy Voters.

In addition to images and artifacts from the Songbook Foundation’s vast archives and other sources, the exhibit includes various interactive elements. A large touchscreen allows visitors to browse through related songs and images from the featured musicals. At several points, the exhibit invites viewers to ponder thought-provoking questions and respond “yes” or “no” by dropping a white or black marble into a clear container. The voting will be tracked throughout the year on the Foundation’s social media accounts.

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