Follow TV Tropes


Theatre / Of Thee I Sing

Go To

Of Thee I Sing is a musical comedy by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, lyrics by Ira Gershwin, music by George Gershwin, originally produced in 1931. Its general theme is a satire on U.S. party politics.

John P. Wintergreen is campaigning for President of the United States, but his party still has doubts that he can be elected without an issue to run on. "He even sounds like a President," the party men assure each other, but their vice-presidential nominee, Alexander Throttlebottom, looks like nobody anybody knows. They arrange for Wintergreen to marry the winner of an Atlantic City Beauty Contest; with love as his platform, he will surely win by a landslide. But Wintergreen falls in love with a secretary by the name of Mary Turner, who can make corn muffins. The winner of the contest, Diana Devereaux, is infuriated at Wintergreen's refusal to marry her. But her demands for justice are blocked by the Supreme Court, which presides over Wintergreen's inauguration and simultaneous wedding to Mary. The complications do not stop there, for when Diana reveals she has a famous French ancestor, President Wintergreen faces diplomatic threats from France and impeachment from his own party. The popular anxiety about the president, however, quickly turns away from the scandal when the First Lady announces she is expecting a baby. All the country is waiting to hear whether it is a boy or girl. Mary finally gives birth to twins, and Throttlebottom averts war with France by finding a constitutional solution.

Of Thee I Sing was a huge hit and won the Pulitzer Prize. It was the first musical and the first comedy to win the Pulitzer, previous winners all having been deadly serious dramas.

The show had an unsuccessful sequel, Let 'Em Eat Cake, which featured, among other items, a Union Square demonstration, an army of blue-shirted revolutionaries, a baseball game, a public execution, and a Fashion Show, interspersed with more than a few routines lifted from the earlier show.

This show contains examples of:

  • Artistic License – Law: Throttlebottom presides over Wintergreen's impeachment trial. The Constitution specifies that the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court presides over impeachment trials, to avoid the conflict of interest.
  • Artistic License – Linguistics: Supposed Southerner Diana Devereaux makes the classic mistake of addressing a single person as "Y'all."
  • Artistic License – Sports: Played for a gag. "At the end of the first period in Montreal: Boston Bruins 3, Chicago White Sox 1." (Those two teams are in different sports.)
  • As Long as It Sounds Foreign: The French soldiers' song is mostly gibberish, although they do name-drop Maurice Chevalier.
  • As You Know: Fulton the newspaper king is greeted with "Well, Matty, how's the newspaper king?"
  • Blue Blood: President Wintergreen gets the United States into international difficulties with France when its ambassador discovers that Diana Devereaux (who was to have been the President's wife if he hadn't met Mary Turner) is the illegitimate daughter of the illegitimate son of the illegitimate nephew of Napoleon.
  • Breach of Promise of Marriage: In the original version, Diana accuses Wintergreen of breach of promise. The Setting Update to 1952 removed the references to the outdated doctrine.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: All the chorus girls, as well as Wintergreen and Mary, make fun of Diana's thick Southern accent.
  • Chest of Medals: The French Ambassador:
    (Enter the French Ambassador. You never saw so many medals.)
    French Soldiers: Ze French Ambassador!
    Wintergreen: I still can't see him!
  • Chorus Girls: All the pretty girls assembled for the beauty contest meant to score Wintergreen a wife form a chorus. The secretaries at the White House form another one.
  • Coca-Pepsi, Inc.: Mentioned in the patter of "Love Is Sweeping The Country":
    Chevrolet and Ford
    Have felt this cosmic urging;
    They, with one accord,
    Have kissed and now are merging.
  • Consolation Prize: In the Beauty Contest:
    Fulton: Matter of fact, we're getting up some consolation prizes. Got the list, Jenkins?
    Jenkins: Here you are, sir.
    Fulton: Of course the first prize, as you all know, is Mr. Wintergreen himself. The Second Prize is a season pass to Coney Island. And the third prize is an autographed photograph of Clara Bow, or ten cents in gold.
  • Cultural Posturing
    Senator from Massachusetts: Mr. Chairman! I would like to call the attention of the Senate to a matter that has been puzzling me for some time. It has to do with a very interesting bridge hand, in which the cards were distributed as follows: East held the four aces, West the four kings, North the four queens, and South—ah—nothing of any importance.
    Lyons (Rising indignantly): Mr. Chairman! The South will never be satisfied with a hand like that!
  • Dark Reprise: "Who Cares", sung for the second time in a much more melancholy manner after the party tells Wintergreen that they'll impeach him if he doesn't divorce Mary.
  • Darker and Edgier: In "Of Thee I Sing" the most that's threatened is impeachment and France ending diplomatic relations with the country. In the sequel, "Let 'Em Eat Cake," most of the cast are nearly executed, including many women who try and fail to escape the death sentence by claiming that they're pregnant.
  • The Ditz: Throttlebottom is a nice guy but not terribly bright. ("What year was 1812?")
  • Eiffel Tower Effect: Wintergreen's Presidential office in the White House has a view of the Washington Monument. He asks his secretary Jenkins what it is, and Jenkins immediately identifies it as Grant's Tomb.
  • Election Day Episode: Scene V of Act I is a very silly montage of Election Night which concludes with Wintergreen's victory.
  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Wintergreen isn't too keen on marrying Diana Devereaux or any of the other Beauty Contest girls, since he doubts their ability to cook: "Why, the average girl today can't cook—she can't even broil an egg." Mary insists that she can cook, and introduces him to her corn muffins, which go Through His Stomach straight to his heart.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage: Wintergreen and Mary fall in love over the course of a single conversation.
  • French Jerk: The French Ambassador, generally rude and obnoxious and contemptuous of American democracy, who demands that Wintergreen marry Diana Devereaux because she's a distant relative of Napoleon.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: When Wintergreen is urged to fall in love with some woman in order to get elected. "You make love to her from now till Election Day as no girl was ever made love to before!" Later, a stage direction describes "Miss Turner at her gayest."
  • Hurricane of Puns: The revelation that Wintergreen is about to be a father leads to the song "Posterity Is Just Around The Corner" (a play on a famous remark of then-President Herbert Hoover). The song's lyrics contain a few more infantile puns:
    Posterity is here and will continue!
    We really didn't know you had it in you!
    Is in its infancy!
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: "Anybody got a drink?", asks Wintergreen repeatedly, as the birth of Mary's baby is imminent.
  • Mistaken for Servant: The President Elect mistakes the Vice-President for a servant.
  • No Party Given: The party that elects Wintergreen and Throttlebottom is never mentioned. They describe themselves as "Republican in most states" but Democrats down in the South.
  • Opening Chorus: "Wintergreen For President" opens the action with a chorus singing a series of impressively banal Wintergreen slogans.
  • Recognition Failure: Throttlebottom. No one can seem to remember who he is, even when he introduces himself repeatedly.
  • Setting Update: The 1952 Broadway revival, regarded as a commercial and artistic failure.
  • Shaped Like Itself: One of the inane campaign slogans shown in the opening number is "A Vote For Wintergreen Is A Vote For Wintergreen."
  • Shout-Out: When the French delegation enters, the orchestra plays the opening bars of George Gershwin's An American in Paris.
  • Siamese Twin Songs: Instead of traditional stand-alone songs, the Gershwins' score consists mostly of long musical sequences with several short songs that lead into one another: the first act finale starts with a brief song for the "Supreme Court Judges," followed by a chorus in praise of Wintergreen ("Hail! Hail!"), followed by Wintergreen singing his inaugural address ("I have definite ideas..."), which leads into Wintergreen's wedding song "A Kiss For Cinderella."
  • Southern Belle: Diana Devereaux, who leans on this hard, with the thick accent and the "you-all" and whatnot.
  • Themed Wedding: The first act ends with the Supreme Court presiding over a ceremony which combines the inauguration of John P. Wintergreen as President with his marriage to Mary Turner, merging the traditional vows for both occasions.
  • Through His Stomach: Mary can make corn muffins! This is what leads Wintergreen to fall in love with her over the course of five minutes or so.
  • Title Drop: "Of Thee I Sing" is the love song that Wintergreen sings to Mary.
  • 25th Amendment: Didn't exist at the time the show was written, so it used Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 instead.
  • Unto Us a Son and Daughter Are Born: The Wintergreens are surprised at the end of the show to get a son and a daughter.
  • Vice President Who?: No one even recognizes Throttlebottom. They can't even remember the name of the person they nominated. Throttlebottom even forgets his own name from time to time. He has to join a tour group to see the White House.
    "You know, vice-presidents don't usually go around in public."
  • What's Up, King Dude?: First Lady Mary Wintergreen takes calls from the butcher.
  • Vote Early, Vote Often: The Election Night montage has Wintergreen voting three different times. A little bit later news bulletins say "Wintergreen lacks only four votes to win!" followed by "WINTERGREEN CASTS LAST FOUR VOTES!"