Robert John Ford. Photographer: Duane Tinkey
Since 2004, Des Moines playwright and composer Robert John Ford’s comedy “Caucus! The Musical” has resurfaced every presidential campaign cycle, with the fictional candidates vying for the vote of the “typical” Iowa caucusgoer. For each election, Ford updated the script and freshened the song lyrics.
But since the 2016 election, “too much has changed, and I couldn’t figure out how to update it,” he says. “I had to start from scratch.”
The result: “Adore Us! Line,” Ford’s new musical comedy that Iowa Stage Theatre Company will premiere Jan. 24 at Stoner Theater in the Des Moines Civic Center.
Unlike “Caucus! The Musical,” the new show is based on real 2020 presidential contenders, not fictional ones. Like the previous show, though, the new one promises plenty of hilarity as it pokes good-natured fun at the political circus that caucus season brings to our state.
“Adore Us! Line” parodies “A Chorus Line,” the blockbuster musical about a group of dancers auditioning for one part in a Broadway show. In Ford’s musical, a fictional Iowa voter “auditions” this year’s field of candidates for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, who sing and dance to reworked lyrics of “A Chorus Line” songs.
Still, “you need zero understanding of ‘A Chorus Line’ to see this show,” says Matthew McIver, artistic director of Iowa Stage Theatre. “The characters and show make sense on their own. But if you do know ‘A Chorus Line,’ you’ll appreciate it at another level.”
While humor is the show’s main aim, Ford wanted to “go deeper” with each candidate. “This is not about their standard stump speech and talking points,” he says. Instead, the candidates reveal “personal stories—their regrets, their failures. [The show] doesn’t elevate them, but it gets to their human side in a humorous way.”
What “Adore Us! Line” is decidedly not about: daily news or President Donald Trump. In fact, the president is not even mentioned in the musical. “I did not want this show to be a commentary,” Ford says. “This is not an attack on Trump or a rehash of the last four years. It’s not about current events; if we did that, we’d be changing the script every day.”
Instead, the musical “is more about humanity than headlines,” McIver adds. “The tone in [this kind of show] can be tricky, and Robert nailed it. He totally stuck the landing.”
To get the right tone and balance, Ford thoroughly researched each candidate, digging into their backgrounds and past positions. “I did not want it to look like I favored any candidate,” he says. Although the dialogue is fictional, he uses some direct quotes. Overall, how the candidates are portrayed is “consistent with what’s known about them, but there are revelations that can [lead] to a deeper understanding,” he says. “It’s a character study … a [way] to get to know the candidates better.”
“It’s a comedy, but it has real emotional depth to it,” McIver adds. “You’ll walk out having laughed and having had an emotional reaction. You’ll feel better than you did going in.”
Unlike its predecessor, “Adore Us! Line” won’t be performed in future election years. “This is a one-time, one-off show,” Ford says.
Directed by Maxwell Schaeffer and choreographed by Megan Helmers, “Adore Us! Line” will be performed Jan. 24-26 and Jan. 29-Feb. 2 (times vary) at Stoner Theater. Tickets are $25-$39, available through dmpa.org. For more information, visit iowastage.org.