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Musical Politics for the GOP Convention

The Republican Party has lined up tickets for Broadway shows for its convention delegates in Manhattan this week -- but only some Broadway shows.

Mamma Mia and The Lion King are included on the approved list for the GOP faithful. But Hairspray, which features cross-dressing, is not. And neither is this year's Tony award-winner for Best Musical, Avenue Q, which features a gay Republican puppet.

NPR's Bob Mondello reports on the long history of Broadway shows and the political reality those shows can both mirror or parody. Broadway, it turns out, has been a showcase for controversial political themes for generations.

The bawdy song "They Like Ike" from the 1950 show Call Me Madam was adopted two years later by supporters of Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower. John F. Kennedy's administration was closely associated with the hit show Camelot, written by JFK's Harvard classmate Alan J. Lerner.

Sometimes Broadway can be downright prescient: Six decades before President Clinton took office, for instance, the Gershwin brothers wrote Of Thee I Sing, about a presidential candidate plagued by "bimbo eruptions."

And sometimes, Broadway takes a lesson from Washington: Earlier this year, the producers of Avenue Q decided to have some fun and "campaign" for the Best Musical nod with posters and buttons, and even a new only-on-DVD sketch sent out to Tony voters.

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Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.