“The Gods Hate Kansas,” a musical by Scott Peterman ’02 and David Ralston ’02, begins in a self-deprecating tone: “You will probably,” the narrator tells us gloomily, “dismiss this story as nonsense long before it is over.” The musical’s self-awareness is impressive.
This weekend we get the “concert” version of the musical — the script is pared down and the whole second act is cut out, actors read their lines between musical numbers and put the emphasis almost wholly on the songs, not on the plot. The songs, indeed, are quite lovely — although unfortunately the script is so edited that it’s hard to tell what’s going on, what the songs are about or how they fit together. Luckily the playbill gives us a plot summary to keep us up to speed; but even after examination the musical as a whole seems just as nonsensical as when we didn’t really understand what was supposed to be happening.
According to the playbill, the musical is a sort of allegory of creation and apocalypse, narrated by God. It takes place not in any Biblical location, but in the small town of Ruby, Kansas in the 1950’s — where a McCarthy-ite senator makes rousing speeches about the imposing threat of Communism and liberalism.
In the concert version we mostly follow Annabelle (Victoria Gardner ’03), a high school senior who feels trapped by the provincial ideas of her peers and family, and Chris (Andrew Hudson ’03), a traveler from New York who seeks a home, as they try to find happiness in each other. What this all has to do with the apocalypse isn’t clear; the musical seems to be at once about religion, politics, small-town near-sightedness and teenage angst, and it all doesn’t quite seem to fit together. Though perhaps it would make more sense if we got to see the second act as well, in which, according to the play bill, flying monkeys from Oz descend and herald the apocalypse by killing all the cast members.
However much we follow in all this, though, the musical numbers, composed by Ralston with lyrics by Peterman, are quite impressive — if they can’t quite come up with a coherent plot, they certainly know how to write music. The singers, especially Gardner and Katie Vagnino ’03, who plays a waitress at the local diner, are extremely talented — so that the show is a genuine musical treat, if a bit perplexing. Perhaps this all is nonsense; but we certainly won’t dismiss it.