Full Synopsis

Full Synopsis

Act One

A group of factory workers at Horace J. Fletcher's American Cheese Company in Hurray, Connecticut, starts its morning off right: management encourages the workers to vocalize every morning, based on the theory that the happier they are, the better they work. They are joined by their foreman, Timothy Harper, their manager, C. Edgar Sloane, and the company's owner, Horace J. Fletcher ("Fletcher's American Cheese Choral Society").

After the workers leave, Mr. Fletcher reveals how excited he is by the 50% tariff that the President of the United States has just imposed on every pound of imported cheese; everyone will now buy American. They recount the wonderful events taking place around the country to commemorate National Cheese Week and commend Mr. Fletcher for building up the company with only a pound of cheese. Harper leaves to urge on the workers to increase production. Sloane, meanwhile, demands that Mr. Fletcher encourage his daughter, Joan, to become Sloane's wife... or else he will reveal some information about Fletcher's evasion of income taxes. Fletcher agrees to think it over.

Mrs. Draper, a society woman, and her daughter, Anne, appear as Mr. Fletcher orders Sloane out of his sight. Mrs. Draper wants to start the City Air Movement for Country Children, a fund to send poor country children to the city for two weeks every summer. She has an obvious romantic interest in Mr. Fletcher, and her attention makes him very nervous. He leads her off for a tour of the factory. As soon as they leave, Anne and the factory foreman, Timothy Harper, embrace frantically and kiss. They are madly in love, but her mother has forbidden her to see him. Anne suggests that they get married before she becomes an old hag. They recall how they met, and how young and naive they were ("17 and 21").

As they leave, Sloane catches up with Mr. Fletcher to deliver a telegram: Switzerland is protesting the new tariff on imported cheese. Fletcher and Sloane remember that the President's confidential advisor, Colonel Holmes, is in town, and make a plan to get him on their side to keep the tariff. Sloane sets off to find Holmes. Joan Fletcher then appears and demands that her father call a reporter from the local paper to reprimand him for writing a derogatory story about her. The reporter, Jim Townsend, enters to get information about the cheese tariff. Joan hides, telling her father to get back at Jim. Unsure of what to do, he tells Jim to wait until Holmes has arrived, as there is about to be a big news story. While they wait, the two men chat and find that their life goals are very different ("A Typical Self-Made American").

Joan finally confronts Jim, who admits that he wrote the article to get her attention. He tells her that she never noticed him before and, when spring came, it had such an effect on him that he had to do something ("Meadow Serenade"). Joan and Jim leave as Fletcher and Sloane return, awaiting the arrival of Colonel Holmes. George Spelvin arrives, claiming that he has come to repair the telephone. He seems to be trying to distract Fletcher from his true purpose and, as soon as he alone, begins to act in a furtive manner. Mrs. Draper and Anne reenter, and then Jim comes back – looking for Mr. Fletcher – but is interrupted by Sloane's announcing the arrival of Colonel Holmes ("The Unofficial Spokesman").

Fletcher and Holmes have a meeting in Fletcher's private office, where they discuss the importance of maintaining the cheese tariff. Holmes thinks a war might do the trick, so Fletcher agrees to pay for the war and give the government 25% of the profits if they name it after him.

A few weeks later, we see a crowd outside of the Fletcher home, rallying in support of the war ("Patriotic Rally"). Fletcher introduces Timothy as Captain, and the excited crowd waits to hear Switzerland's response to a series of American demands. Meanwhile, Joan and Jim have met, and Jim explains to Joan that he cannot get behind the war because he doesn't like cheese. Joan is upset and claims that the man she loves would be proud to go to war. Jim asks if there really is such a man, and the two finally confess their love for each other ("The Man I Love"). As Joan leaves, Sloane comes in and warns Jim that he intends to marry Joan, but he is unimpressed.

Elsewhere, Timothy and Anne are arguing because she wants to get married before he goes off to war. They get distracted when Spelvin enters with two girls, to whom he is teaching dance moves in support of the war ("Yankee Doodle Rhythm"). After the crowd disperses, Mrs. Draper and Mr. Holmes meet and he invites her to have a drink. It becomes clear that he is a few drinks ahead of her, and the two are soon drunk. Holmes begins to spill confidential information to her, and Mr. Fletcher walks in on the two being flirtatious. After Holmes leaves, Mrs. Draper tries to confess her feelings to Mr. Fletcher ("17 And 21 – Reprise").

As Fletcher and Draper leave, Spelvin comes on as a waiter and offers a drink to Jim to toast the war. He informs Jim that the drink is the milk that Fletcher uses to make his cheese. Jim, who used to be a dairyman, recognizes the milk as Grade B milk, not the Grade A that Fletcher proudly claims to use. He quickly informs Joan that he can't go to war because he cannot defend the lie. Just as Jim is telling her this, Fletcher enters with the crowd to tell them that Congress is in session to declare war on Switzerland. Jim steps forward to alert the crowd about the milk, but everyone turns on him instead, claiming he is a spy. War is declared, and Jim is taken away for his supposed crime ("Finaletto Act I").

After the crowd marches off, the Very Patriotic League, which consists of Mr. Fletcher, Sloane, Colonel Holmes and Mrs. Draper, meets. They wear small hoods resembling those worn by the KKK. They make decisions pertaining to the war, such as eliminating any dangerous Swiss references, like "Swiss Family Robinson." They discover that the Swiss want to hold the war in Switzerland and decide that doing so will be great for tourism. The League then decides to try Jim, deciding that the best punishment is to force him to fight. The troops appear, led by Timothy, ready to go to war. Fletcher announces the engagement of his daughter to Sloane, and the troops march off to war ("Strike up the Band").

Act Two

The act opens in Switzerland. A group of soldiers sits on rocking chairs and knit. They have Swiss girls by their sides and all reflect on how wonderful it is to be at war ("Oh This Is Such a Lovely War").

Timothy Harper warns the soldiers that Mr. Fletcher is about to appear with the Board of Directors of the war and a group of tourists. The group includes Colonel Holmes, Sloane, Mrs. Draper, Anne and Joan. Fletcher asks Tim to supply war action to make the tourists happy. Jim then appears in uniform, and the group is informed that he works in the kitchen. Sloane humiliates Jim in front of Joan, much to her distress.

Mr. Fletcher complains to Timothy that the war is a disaster and has left him broke. He demands to know why they haven't fought any battles. Timothy informs him that they can't find the enemy, as the Swiss know the mountains much better than the Americans. Holmes and Fletcher insist that Timothy start selling U.S. supplies to the Swiss army to make a profit because the Americans aren't buying enough. Fletcher tells Holmes that he is running out of money and asks if the United States could issue a loan; Holmes admits that the President doesn't even know the war in Switzerland is going on.

Later, Fletcher recruits the mysterious Spelvin to be a General and promptly orders him to win the war. General Spelvin goes off to look for his army. Jim tries to talk to Fletcher, but Fletcher dismisses him. Joan and Jim share their sadness over the path that their lives have taken because of Jim's need to stand up for his ideals ("Hoping That Someday You'd Care").

General Spelvin finally finds soldiers, and they complain to him that the buttons are being cut off their coats. They march off as Mrs. Draper enters. Spelvin says that she reminds him of an exotic dancer he once knew and encourages her to dance for the troops instead of reciting inspirational poetry to them. She is awkwardly trying to dance when Anne appears. Mrs. Draper, who doesn't think she can catch a man if she is a grandmother, makes Anne promise not to get married before she does. Anne then tries to play matchmaker for her mother with Colonel Holmes by suggesting that Mrs. Draper is wealthy. Timothy appears and complains about life in the Army ("Military Dancing Drill").

Joan finally tells her father that she can't marry Sloane because she loves Jim. Mr. Fletcher says that, unless they proceed as planned, the war will fail. Jim tries once again to tell Mr. Fletcher how to end the war, but is ignored. Mrs. Draper appears and tries to seduce Fletcher, but he continues to avoid her as Colonel Holmes enters and makes a reference to her millions. Suddenly, both Mr. Fletcher and Colonel Holmes are interested in Mrs. Draper. They try to compete for her affection ("How about a Man?").

General Spelvin manages to snip two buttons off of Sloane's coat and convinces Jim that Sloane is the one who has been cutting off the buttons all along. Jim tells Spelvin to yodel, thereby deceiving the Swiss army into thinking that they are being called home to lunch. Thusly, the enemy can be engaged and the war can be finished. Jim confronts Sloane and, in an act of anger, calls everyone out and reveals that Sloane has been stealing the buttons. Everyone demands that Jim be taken away for making false accusations, but they are interrupted by yodeling and the sounds of war. Spelvin appears to announce they have won and that they owe Jim for his clever idea. In all of the excitement, Mrs. Draper accidentally reveals that she isn't rich, and Anne and Joan feel hopeless about their attempts at love ("Finaletto: Act II").

On the return trip, the sailors aboard the ship celebrate being able to go home ("Homeward Bound"). Mr. Fletcher and Mrs. Draper meet at the ship railing, both very seasick. In their moment of vulnerability, they both realize their mutual love and collapse into each other's arms.

In Mr. Fletcher's ballroom, the women are anxiously awaiting the return of their heroes, who finally arrive ("The War That Ended the War"). During the festivities, Jim – now regarded as a hero – identifies Sloane as the head of the Swiss Secret Service. Spelvin is subsequently outed as a member of the American Secret Service, who caught Sloane cutting the buttons of the uniforms so the soldiers would catch pneumonia. He was also responsible for using Grade B milk to make the cheese.

Jim promises to keep the whole ugly business quiet – if Mr. Fletcher agrees to a League of Cheese to prevent further wars – and finally announces his intention to marry Joan. Just as all seems well, Holmes appears to announce that Russia wants the tariff on caviar cut down. Instantly, Fletcher leads the crowd into declaring that they fight against Russia's demands ("Finale Ultimo").