Let us catalog, categorize and prioritize our outrage.
After all, this featherweight, odd duck of a show—a little musical about big-bearded rednecks—has triggered the spillage of ink, the frittering of airtime and the blathering of bloggers from Broadway to L.A. That was even before Duck Commander Musical, the story of the Bible-’n’-Bayou-lovin’ Robertson family—derived from TV’s Duck Dynasty, that repository of redneck “reality”—even hit the boards at the Rio’s Crown Theater.
Just a taste:
- “The family has become symbolic of a much larger and somewhat dangerous problem … this issue of homophobia being masked as a religious value.” (GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis to The New York Times on the announcement of the musical)
- “Why the Duck Dynasty Musical Will Be a Disaster” (Salon.com headline)
- “A Duck Dynasty musical is being made, and I literally have never wanted to douse myself in gasoline more than I do right now.” And “Wow, how low can our society sink?” (Facebook commenters)
- “It’s pretty disgusting.” (Broadway producer Emanuel Azenberg to The New York Times)
- “[The] Duck Dynasty musical will bring anus-obsessed racism to the stage. … Get your fucking shit together, America. Stop turning bigots into billionaires.” (GQ’s The Q blog)
Lots of fuss over some singin’, some dancin’ and some good-’ol-boy-’in. Worth it? Hardly. Duck Commander Musical—though fairly amusing and staged with style and craftsmanship—isn’t quite the stuff of impending theatrical legend. (See sidebar below.)
However, if we’re going to have a debate-club circle jerk over a piece of pop-culture puffery, let’s put it all on the table—hypocrisy and selective outrage included.
What should offend us most? That the production is based on the history of a family whose patriarch likened homosexuality to bestiality? That’s the (revived) Offense Du Jour, anyway. Objecting to it is fair for gays—especially, now, for gays in the theater community—as well as straight people of goodwill and good sense. And Conservative Christians are entitled to their beliefs.
There’s no argument on its validity as a controversy, and certainly the family working with a director and several key creative artists who are gay is irresistible media catnip. No one with journalism cred and a keyboard could ignore it.
Yet why avoid the other redneck elephants in the room?
Say, the one in which Phil Robertson declared that ISIS members should either be converted or killed. Surely it’s a turn-off to the media to try to work up a national lather over Robertson’s approval of murdering terrorists, especially the butchers of ISIS. One salient fact—that Robertson’s moral model is the very same, repulsive one ISIS operates under—was too inconvenient to qualify for stick-to-the-ribs controversy.
Or consider the show’s writers describing Duck Commander Musical as “a Christian Fiddler on the Roof” because both embrace religious faith. Coincidentally, that also equates the tale of a duck-call-concocting clan earning truckloads of cash and national fame, with the story of oppressed, impoverished Jews fleeing their Russian village in 1905 ahead of a looming massacre of their population.
Not a peep? Well, it’s not as simple a gut punch as homosexuality vs. bestiality, apparently. Blunt homophobia is easier to grasp than the casual ignorance or dismissal of Jewish history as rendered onstage—especially to people with little or no theater background.
Still the analogy—particularly by theatrical professionals who should know better—was truly boneheaded. And thoroughly overlooked.
Also odd as a sidelight has been commentary that if red-state-style Duck Commander Musical arrived in blue-state New York with its Bible Belt following, it would be out of step with Broadway’s liberal storytelling. Conveniently, that ignores history.
Numerous shows—including box-office successes—have been Biblically based without being anti-Christian, albeit with artistic license taken with scripture. Among them: Godspell, Leap of Faith, Sister Act, Jesus Christ Superstar, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Your Arms Too Short to Box With God. (Irony-loving wiseasses might toss in The Book of Mormon, which eviscerates and disembowels the tenets of Mormonism.)
Let’s circle back to the old TV controversy and the new worry that infers that the stage show can act as some kind of social compass—that if it’s a hit, it somehow legitimizes Phil Robertson’s opinions. Worse yet, that it might prop up the family’s pop-culture fortunes when ratings for the TV series have been slipping.
Really? Does anyone consider the papa bear of the Duck Family Robertson to be a statesman, academic, philosopher or—even more important in contemporary America—a celebrity with serious sway over public attitudes? Even his Dynastic relatives don’t pretend he is, instead blessing a musical (even participating in it, electronically) that good-naturedly elbows them in the ribs as much as it tries to play up their heart.
It’s song-and-dance rednecks. Nothing more. And—in terms of socio-political significance—a whole lot less, with one notable caveat:
Addressing Phil’s comments on homosexuality made to a GQ reporter, plus the resulting uproar and family’s irritation with him, the musical doesn’t repeat them, but doesn’t repent over them, either. Instead, the Phil character says, “I’m gonna say what I think but love everyone, no matter what.” Such a have-it-both-ways cop-out is also weirdly admirable and honest in a country where celebrities say and do ugly things, then utter apologies they don’t mean and no one believes.
As for the Vegas publicity coup from all this palaver, it’s given rise to hopes—likely to be dashed—that we can correct what we previously botched: exporting a show to Broadway. Previous attempts—the Beach Boys-themed misfire, Surf the Musical and, via some delusional comments by a few participants, the excruciatingly awful Pawn Shop Live!—died within our city limits.
Though no declarations of a planned Broadway leap have been made, the show’s pedigree—a Broadway-level cast, director, creative team and producers (the ones behind Jersey Boys)—and even the characters wondering aloud if they’re bound for the Great Yankee Way, suggest just such aspirations.
Also, it’s a potential opportunity for Vegas to embarrass the snots and snobs. Or, in the case of theater columnist Jeremy Gerard, a snot-and-snob in one, considering that he wrote in November, when the project was announced, that the musical “is set to join the ranks of brainless entertainment at the Rio that includes Chippendales and Penn & Teller.” (Note to Penn Jillette: Should you wish to share your thoughts, you can reach him at Deadline.com, where he’s executive editor.)
Moving on to sweeping Vegas-bashing, Gerard wields a quote by Michael David of the musical’s producing company, Dodger Theatricals, to club us:
“ When [David] says, ‘The show will end up challenging the views and assumptions of people across the political spectrum, more than most theater does,’ he’s talking trash. You’ve been to Las Vegas. Me, too—I reviewed Vegas shows for Variety. Vegas shows don’t even challenge the assumptions of Flat Earth Society members.”
Now we’ve gotten to my outrage.
While I’d love for us to deliver a swift kick to Gerard’s journalistic gonads, dreams of successfully transferring from Vegas to Broadway are … well, let’s just say Duck isn’t likely to waddle through John F. Kennedy International Airport and grab a cab to a midtown rehearsal loft.
Fret not. We’ll always have our outrage—fraudulent, overblown or even actually legitimate—to keep us entertained.
Duck Commander Musical
7 p.m. Thu-Tue, 10 p.m. Thu and Sat, in the Crown Theater at the Rio, $53.30 and up, 702-252-7777, DuckCommanderMusical.com.
Duck, a la Rio
Broadway? Nah. Vegas? Sure, why not? Duck Commander Musical is a Vegas-size production camouflaging itself—thanks to creative stagecraft and helpful media speculation—as a potential understudy for a Broadway spot someday.
One of its stated goals is to inspire us with its “rags to riches” tale of the Duck Dynasty Robertson clan’s rise to business/pop-cultural fame. Despite its fowl mood, it instead inspires a question from an old TV commercial: Where’s the beef?
Excepting the homosexuality-bestiality controversy, the family’s climb to national fascination is pretty much a straight upward shot with scant dramatic heft or intriguing narrative arc.
Fleeting, mild tension after Papa Phil gets irritated with their media immersion, and some family griping about loss of privacy, are the only other minor hurdles. Impressive as their duck-call-business accomplishments are, plus their unlikely stardom, it’s not exactly the triumph-over-adversity stuff of gripping storytelling.
That leaves highlights elsewhere:
• Spirited, often funny performances come courtesy of actors such as Tad Wilson (Phil) and Mimi Bessette (Miss Kay). Particularly effective are the teddy-bearish, flag-bandana-wearing Ben Thompson as son Willie, the family’s entrepreneurial driving force, and Ginna Claire Mason as his sweetly likable wife, Korie. Comic gold is spun by Jesse Lenat as flamboyant Uncle Si, his best bit being a wacky, Travolta-esque dance number in shiny disco pants. Otherwise, the rest of the family functions mostly as a redneck Greek chorus.
• A generic but finger-snappy, occasionally rousing gospel-rock-country score, though no individual tunes will likely stay with you beyond a post-show beer.
• Deftly deployed multimedia elements: Large, rolling-screen panels and monitors imaginatively display animation and video clips, particularly to illustrate YouTube, blog and assorted Internet reaction to the Robertsons. Especially entertaining are the real, hammy family members, in taped routines, watching and commenting on the action, showing hearty good humor.
• A slam-bang, Chorus Line-style finale, featuring Wilson’s Phil—you know, the pray-away-the-gay guy—in an absolutely faaaabulous plumage of corn husks and camouflage feathers.
Duck Commander Musical is a Vegas-appropriate, reasonably fun, slickly executed goof. Not a Broadway musical-in-waiting. – SB