Election 2016 The Musical: Who Should Play Who?

Aaron Netsky

  • New York Columnist

Ever since Game Change, I have enjoyed watching movies that depict real political people. There is something weirdly wonderful about watching someone you’ve seen on television or in real life played by someone else you’ve seen on television or in real life, and seeing how these two real people blend together or don’t, depending on the performance. Naturally, I have been looking forward to the inevitable HBO original movie about the 2016 election, and imagining who would play who. Shame on me, though, for not first imagining it as a musical. Musicals, after all, are my first love, and something as over-the-top as this election cycle deserves the musical theatre treatment. And so, here is who I would cast in such a musical if I had enough money to pay them all (let’s face it: hypothetical castings always tend to have a lot of big stars in them):

Michael Crawford as Donald Trump: I’ve actually been saying for a while that Crawford would make a great Trump for the inevitable movie. He’s the right age, bears enough of a resemblance that it wouldn’t take much for him to make the physical transformation, and he’s long been known for his talent with accents, so even though he is British and Trump is a New Yorker, I’m sure he could pull it off. Not only that, but Trump is always referred to as a showman, and he is. Crawford won his first Olivier for playing P. T. Barnum, and more recently played Professor Marvel and the title character in The Wizard of Oz. He’s perfect to play Trump. And I should note that even though I love Michael Crawford, my nominating him to play Donald Trump should not read as an endorsement of the Republican nominee.

Carolee Carmello as Hillary Clinton: The role of Hillary Clinton requires someone with a powerful voice, and for the past twenty years there have been few on Broadway with a voice more powerful than Carolee Carmello’s. It is expressive and strong, and she has used it over her career to defend the man she loves (Parade), lead a movement and try to do good in the world (Scandalous), and play a government regulator of sorts (Urinetown). She usually plays strong women, whether Lilli/Katherine in Kiss Me, Kate or Mrs. Du Maurier in Finding Neverland, so who better to play a woman who keeps breaking glass ceilings. I nominate Carmello to play Hillary Clinton, and as I wrote above, just because I love Carolee Carmello does not mean that by nominating her to play Hillary Clinton I am endorsing the Democratic nominee. No endorsements here, just casting.

Norbert Leo Butz as Tim Kaine: Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary’s running mate, is known as the fun guy out of the four presidential and vice presidential candidates. The fun dad, the harmonica player, the goof who is apparently the only person who can’t do a decent Trump impression, but we smile at it anyway. Is there anyone on Broadway more fun than Norbert Leo Butz? Maybe and possibly, Broadway is a fun place full of fun people. But Butz is a lot of fun, especially when he gets on stage in a fun role. He’s incredibly likable. And even though he once sang, as part of his Tony-winning performance in Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (not the title of my election 2016 musical), “I wanna be like Trump,” I think he would be better suited to being Kaine, and I nominate him for that role.

Michael Cerveris as Mike Pence: Michael Cerveris has a chiseled jaw and an intense baritone. He is known for playing stoic, dignified characters on the edge of a breakdown, like John Wilkes Booth in Assassins and Bruce Bechdel in Fun Home. I’m not saying that Mike Pence is fighting back any kind of frustrations that might want to burst forth, but he does seem like the kind of guy who has to make an extra effort to keep calm amidst all of the madness. I nominate Michael Cerveris to play Mike Pence because I feel he would bring that anchor quality to the role.

Laura Benanti as Melania Trump: Why? Well, because she’s already done it, and I value experience. Shortly after Melania Trump delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention that sounded very familiar to a lot of people, Laura Benanti appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to debut an impression worthy of…a certain weekly sketch comedy show that Colbert stopped her from mentioning on the air. If just for that one scene in the musical (not that Benanti couldn’t do a lot more with the role if called upon), I nominate Laura Benanti to play Melania Trump.

Gregg Edelman as Bill Clinton: There doesn’t need to be a ton of Bill Clinton in this musical. His only job on the campaign trail seems to be to say things the campaign then has to walk back. But for what there is for him to do, the tall and charming presence of Gregg Edelman should fit the bill. He once played The Wolf and Cinderella’s prince in Into the Woods, so I think he’s covered experience-wise for the role of the former president. Plus, according to the internet, he’s married to Carolee Carmello in real life, so I feel pretty confident nominating him to the role of her husband on stage.

Kerry Butler as Chelsea Clinton: Kerry Butler has experience playing Hillary Clinton. She did so off-Broadway in Clinton: The Musical, which was about the presidency of Bill and the two sides of his personality. But she’s too young to play the Hillary who is running for president, and at this point she may be tired of being cast as “the daughter,” but I nominate her for the role of Chelsea Clinton, Hillary’s daughter and most passionate advocate, to which I feel she will bring both the vitality and grounded-ness of a woman who has at once forged her own path and stayed close to her famous family.

Sierra Boggess as Ivanka Trump: Sierra Boggess does well playing young women who have to reign in difficult men. She is perhaps the world’s favorite Christine in The Phantom of the Opera. Boggess is currently playing the role in Paris, France, having left another such role, Principal Rosalie Mullins, who has to do her best to keep control of the man-child Dewey Finn in School of Rock, to do so. Ivanka Trump is reportedly the person who has the most influence over her father Donald, so Boggess’s experience playing off Phantoms and Finns should come in handy. I nominate her to a role that requires dignity and elegance in the face of huge personalities. I think she can do it.

Brian Stokes Mitchell and Audra McDonald as Barack and Michelle Obama: I mean, of course, right? Mitchell’s got Barack’s smile and voice, McDonald’s got Michelle’s elegance and sturdiness. They are both beloved by many, as the Obama’s are, would dazzle on stage together or apart, as the Obama’s do. They would really bring some spark to the show, as they did in Ragtime, only this time they would ride on the wheels of a Dreams from My Father.

Hugh Panaro and Ramin Karimloo as The Trump Sons: No real reason, no matter which plays which, I just needed a couple of handsome guys with good hair to play Trumps older sons. I figured a couple of Broadway’s more recent Phantoms would be good for a couple of guys who, honestly, come off as a little creepy. I nominate Hugh Panaro and Ramin Karimloo for Eric and Donald Jr.

Robert Morse as Bernie Sanders: As Senator Sanders, Robert Morse would narrate the whole thing. Morse is actually ten years older than Sanders, but like Sanders he is still working and still quite vibrant (I saw him in a play just last week). He would provide some comic relief, not that there wouldn’t already be plenty of comedy, and also complain from the sidelines Larry David style. Robert Morse, if you’re reading this, because “I Believe in You,” I nominate you to play Bernie Sanders.

Lea Salonga as The Undecided Voter: The Undecided Voter will follow Bernie around as he narrates the action, they will occasionally interact. She had been a Bernie supporter, but is now undecided. Why Lea Salonga? Because I really like Lea Salonga. But Aaron, would someone who looks like Lea Salonga really still be considering voting for Trump? If you look at the faces of undecided voters, they are surprisingly diverse. (I am not suggesting that Lea Salonga is actually undecided.) Because I don’t want to have to wait another ten years for Salonga to return to Broadway, I nominate her for the crucial role of The Undecided Voter.

Would you like to nominate anyone to run against my choices to play these roles? Leave a comment, and maybe people will vote for your choices over mine with likes. Not that the musical is actually going to happen. It’s all in good fun. And we need some good fun with this election going on. So go ahead and challenge me and my picks. I promise I won’t call you names or run ads against you.


 Aaron Netsky writes about musicals (http://366days366musicals.tumblr.com) and books and culture (http://cantonaut.blogspot.com) on his personal blogs, and has written a yet unpublished musical theatre novel. His writing can also be seen on AtlasObscura.com, TheHumanist.com, ThoughtCatalog.com, and Medium.com. Follow him on Twitter @AaronNetsky.