Pulitzer Spotlight: OF THEE I SING

Pulitzer Spotlight: OF THEE I SING

This is the third in a series looking at the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

logo_200x200_000131The 1931 Pulitzer Prize for Drama was even more historic than usual. That year, the award went to a musical for the first time.  OF THEE I SING, the charming political satire by George and Ira Gershwin, George S. Kaufman, and Morrie Ryskind, was called "not only coherent and well-knit enough to class as a play, but it is a biting and true satire on American politics and the public attitude towards them....The play is genuine and it is felt the Pulitzer Prize could not serve a better purpose than to recognize such work."

The first American musical to maintain a satiric voice throughout the piece, OF THEE I SING was the Gershwin's most musically complex show at that time, drawing on Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and using a wide range of song styles and structures, from recitative to ballads to pastiche. Its songs, designed to further the story, are rife with clever, comical lyrics.  A committee evaluating the contestants of the beauty pageant vital to the show make comments such as "A voice so lyrical/Is given few/Her eyes a miracle/Of Prussian blue."  When presidential candidate Wintergreen reveals that the object of his affections isn't in the pageant at all, he admits, "It isn't that I would jilt or spurn 'er/It's just that I love someone else--Mary Turner."  The show was also noteworthy for strongly integrating the score within the book, a rarity for the time.  It's fitting that such a groundbreaking step for musical theatre began with a show that redefined the boundaries of what the art form could do.

OF THEE I SING is a goofy look at the  American political system, mixing serious issues with hilarious comedy.  The satire focuses on the election campaign and Presidency of John P. Wintergreen, whose party, lacking a viable platform, runs on love, promising that if elected he will marry the partner chosen for him at an Atlantic City beauty pageant. When he falls for Mary Turner (a campaign secretary who bakes a mean corn muffin) instead of Diana Deveraux (the fairest flower of the South and winner of the pageant), trouble begins!

To license OF THEE I SING, visit its MTI show page. View original production photos and discuss OF THEE I SING on its MTI ShowSpace page.

The next article in this series will cover FIORELLO, the next MTI musical to win the Pulitzer Prize.