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Disneyland’s Rogers: the Musical has come and gone as a show people can see in person. However, the Rogers: The Musical Cast Album recently became available for purchase, making it an ideal time to do a dive into the show since now more people can enjoy it. Is it a good musical? Does it succeed in what it’s trying to do? What is Rogers: the Musical trying to do anyway?
Given that I am reasonably certain that no one has given more thought to Rogers: The Musical than I have without being paid by Marvel Studios to do so, and that I am somewhat known for having strong feelings about musicals, I feel safe in being able to help lead you all on a deep dive here.
Before we get started though, let’s give a shout out to Jordan Peterson for directing, Christopher Lennertz, Jordan Peterson, and Alex Karukas who wrote the new songs (everything besides Save the City, in other words), Hunter Bell who did the book (regular readers know what a book is by now), and Sarah Kobayashi who did choreography. We are, as always, big fans of respecting all levels of production here.
But now let’s get into it.
What is Disneyland’s Rogers: The Musical Trying to Do?
We can’t talk about the quality of Disneyland’s Rogers: The Musical without understanding what it is and what it’s trying to accomplish. On the surface this sounds easy. Rogers: The Musical is a musical, right? It’s right there in the title. Done deal, no?
Except it’s not. Because this isn’t Rogers: the Musical it’s Disneyland’s Rogers: The Musical. The Disneyland is key. That means it’s not a musical, it’s a theme park show that happens to have songs in it.
This is not to put down theme park shows by any means! But it is to say that theme park shows have different goals than musicals do, and we’ll get into what those goals are in a moment. However, the creative team working on Disneyland’s Rogers: The Musical had an extra degree of difficulty in putting this show together. Namely that it’s a theme park show about a musical. The majority of people coming to the Hyperion theater to see this show were doing so because they saw it in Hawkeye’s first episode and wanted the real thing. But you can’t give the real thing in a theme park show.
Another pickle is that in universe, which is to say the world in which Clint Barton as played by Jeremy Renner exists, Rogers: The Musical is a bad musical. Now you can make shows that are bad on purpose and have them be wildly entertaining, but can you do that for a theme park show audience?
All of which is to say that Disneyland’s Rogers: The Musical ends up being a lot like The Eternals in that the final product is a single piece made up of entirely different shows.
The Eternals was three parts, namely:
- A Marvel Studios movie
- The vastly superior film Angelina Jolie was in
- Chloé Zhao Presents Pretty People Staring Into The Middle Distance During Golden Hour For Far Too Goddamn Long
In the same vein, Disneyland’s Rogers: The Musical is:
- A Disneyland theme park show
- An actual musical that snuck in there
- Oh shit we need to include the Hawkeye song
Now the thing to understand is that Disneyland’s Rogers: The Musical accomplishes the first goal handily. I’m told by those who saw it in person that it was a great time and well worth seeing. Given the ouroboros like nature of the concept this was no small task and everyone involved deserves a victory lap for how they handled it.
If that’s the case, though, why is there a very obvious but hanging in the air here? Well the but is that it didn’t smooth out into a full show. It’s those three separate components and you can tell. You can also tell that it was a show affected by people in suits going “…I don’t get it” while it was being worked on, and a show that went on stage because it was scheduled to open and not because it was done.
To be crystal clear though: I am not knocking the team who worked on it for this. Instead I’m pointing out just how difficult their task was and I’m using the iffy spots as a way to talk about what musicals are and how they are supposed to work. Also how theme park shows are supposed to work, so let’s get into that right now.
Why Disneyland’s Rogers: The Musical Isn’t a Musical
Is Disneyland’s Rogers: The Musical a theme park show? Yes. It’s a show presented in a theme park. Next question, right?
Ehh, in fairness it’s a slightly more complicated answer. I mean the answer is still very much yes, it is a theme park show and not a musical. But does the show agree it’s a theme park show? Again, yes. But let’s talk about why.
First of all, let’s understand that theme park shows are completely different animals from musicals. One is a two plus hour show done for an audience with the express interest of seeing the story and performances that tell it. The other is a much shorter show done for an audience that is made up of adults suffering from the realization that diet Coke is not useful for preventing heat induced dehydration and who are holding hands with six year olds who just threw up their Mickey Mouse shaped soft pretzel after coming off of the teacups ride twenty minutes earlier. The overlap in the Venn diagram of what will work for both of these audience types narrows down super quickly to “Bright colors on a stage and some music maybe?”
I cannot stress enough that this is not to put down a theme park audience. It’s to say that the way to please a theme park audience is different. Theme park audiences have paid good money to just enter the park, let alone whatever extra comes with wanting to be fed and entertained while they’re in there. And the thing they want is what the theme park is about. If they just wanted rides and food they could hop down to their local St Joseph’s Church Fair and August Fundraiser for all the Tilt-A-Whirl rounds and bags of zeppoles their hearts desire.
But they’re not. They’re at a branded theme park - Disneyland, in this case - because they want to enjoy and celebrate all the properties that Disney owns that they, the person buying the ticket, loves. Now we can certainly get into an argument about issues of capitalism and copyright and intellectual property and Disney owning far too much, but that’s a complete side issue to how the purpose of the park is for fans to enjoy the characters and stories that they love.
How does this relate to Disneyland’s Rogers: The Musical not being a musical? More specifically, not the musical Clint Barton was watching? Because that show doesn’t work for this audience.
Yes, a not insignificant chunk of this audience wants to see the same show that Clint saw. However, they didn’t. The opening number - US Opening Night - makes that clear when it says they need to tell the story in 30 minutes or less.
As I’ve talked about multiple times before, the opening number of a show is the tutorial level: here’s what the show is about and here’s how it will be about it. US Opening Night does that brilliantly. Here’s our show, here’s our chorus who will be guiding you through the story, here’s our fourth wall breaking winks which say this is a show for you, the theme park audience.
In addition to the song, the setup for the show is for the theme park audience as well. The audience is told Stark Industries presents Rogers: The Musical complete with the Starkettes. Which is great. Makes zero sense for the show Clint Barton saw and, also, for the show itself but we’re not serving the show, we’re serving the theme park audience.
Why? Well first up the multiverse may be infinite but there’s no version of Earth where Pepper Potts, fresh off the death of her husband, makes it a priority in her role as head of Stark Industries to sign off paying for on a musical about jack shit, let alone one which is about some dude who isn’t the father of her child.
Second, not to be Captain Pedantic or anything but these aren’t Starkettes. Starkettes perform at a Stark Expo. There’s no Stark Expo in this story. There is explicitly a USO show since, yanno, that’s the title of the song.
But this is a theme park audience. USO Girl does not get the frisson of Hey, that’s a reference to a thing I know! that Starkette does. Same for name dropping Stark Industries for no story based reason whatsoever. Same for later on hinting at T’Challa, even though nobody knew him at the time Nick Fury brings him up, or having Lion King on a Times Square billboard, or playing the Imperial March. None of that makes sense for the story, but it is the shit the audience is there to see. If you’re not delivering, you’re not doing your job.
To that end, the hat gets tipped for how this was done fairly well. For instance, while the Starkettes’ name is pure name drop, their concept is pure Disney. It’s three women who sing and coo over a handsome man. That’s a fine old Disney musical tradition.
Moreover, I would say that if you’re making a show for a Disney audience, you’re earning extra points if you’re paying homage not just to obvious Leo Pointing Meme delivery devices like playing the Avengers theme, but also aiming things for the audience who knows their Disney shit. It’s not for nothing that the I Want song here is called “I Want You.” You can almost see the same fourth wall breaking wink of “C’mon, folks. If you’re in Disneyland and don’t appreciate an I Want song what are you even doing here?”
So to that end Disneyland’s Rogers: The Musical is a great theme park show. It’s light, it’s fun, it’s cheeky, it hits all the references it should it, it hits some it could have been forgiven for not even aiming for, and it tells a story. But it does have some stumbles, and that’s in where it accidentally stops being a theme park show and slips into being a musical.
When Disneyland’s Rogers: the Musical Forgets It’s A Theme Park Show
To start, there are two songs in the show that are pure musical in terms of performance and staging. I Want You is the first. Josey Montana McCoy sings and performs the shit out of it. You can put that I Want song directly on Broadway with no changes, no notes. Perfect, beautiful, love it.
The second is End of the Line where Josey and Luke Monday duet about Steve’s decision to use the time stone to go back to Peggy. Hand to god this part was so good I legit wondered how they snuck it in. The use of small Steve to be the representation of Steve’s true inner self was brilliant. So much so that, unfortunately, it went over the heads of some of the people watching.
(I don’t link to stupid but suffice it to say there were professional reviewers who scratched their heads at this part because apparently you can get jobs at notable entertainment publications without understanding concepts like symbolism or metaphor. My blood pressure can’t take this, I swear.)
Now I’m not saying everybody in the audience didn’t get it. They were performing this show four times a day throughout August, sheer numbers dictate there were plenty of people in the crowd who did. I’m saying it’s operating at a different level of the wink-wink-get it? that the other parts of the show have. There’s no name dropping, there’s no playing to the crowd, it’s pure inner character work. Which means it’s great but tonally doesn’t match.
Likewise you have the things that I suspect were due to notes from suits that could be summed up as “I don’t get it.” Also things where I genuinely wonder if there was either cohesion or a clearly stated goal for the show. As I said before, you have the theme park show, the musical, and Save the City. They’re all in the same thirty minutes but they don’t connect in any way other than that things happen one after the other.
For example, US Opening Night is clearly meant to be cheeky with its straight up winking at the audience. The song itself is a reference to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy and barely bothers to change the music enough to be discernable from it. Which is fine! That’s on purpose because it’s supposed to be a reference to that song. There’s no problem here.
The problem comes later when Nick Fury sings What You Missed. First of all, it’s super spy Nick Fury singing an exposition song, which would be hilarious if it was on purpose (the guy whose secrets have secrets is now spilling all the beans) but I don’t think it was. And the reason why I don’t think it was is that, frankly, the song’s not smart enough to be satire.
It’s a fine song, don’t get me wrong! But the intent of the song is muddled. You can start to see this when some reviewers - and again I don’t link stupid so just trust me on this - compared Nick Fury to the Genie in Aladdin with this song. And like… okay first up could it be a teeny bit more obvious that these reviewers just said “Huh, Black man of a certain body type? Must be like the Genie!”
Second, you wouldn’t think this would need to be pointed out to people supposedly familiar with musicals but if it’s a song in a show that took concept inspiration from Hamilton it should not be that far a walk to realize the song homage for What You Missed is, yanno, WHAT DID I MISS.
(My blood pressure, people, seriously.)
Ahem. Anyway, so this was clearly meant to be the Jefferson song of Rogers: The Musical. Why it’s not straight up a version of that song the same way US Opening Night is for Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy is beyond me. Yes, there’s issues of rights but at the same time Lin-Manuel Miranda cheerfully chained himself to a radiator the second Disney asked him to be their in house composer. The man named his firstborn after a crab. I suspect if he’d been asked and it was in his power to do, he would’ve let them do a riff on What’d I Miss?
That they didn’t tells me it was probably a matter of rights and money. Which is fine. But then they go in a direction with Fury that doesn’t make sense musically.
They give Fury a patter song. Patter songs are great for exposition. For example, they’re a great way to tell people you’re a Modern Major General which, like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, is the song What You Missed directly lifts from.
Honestly they should’ve stopped there. However they go one further by throwing in some funk sounds as well which… eeeeeh.
I mean you can exposition with funk no problem! Plenty of musicals have. But the thing is in a musical you need to be using music for a reason.
As a theme park show, Modern Major General is fine for Nick Fury. It’s one of the most famous patter songs, people love to riff on it, it’s not not of Steve Rogers’s time, it works.
You throw in funk though and you’re saying the music is about the character. And then you trip yourself up.
In Hamilton Jefferson’s songs are all to music that is older than the rest of the show. He does ragtime. His battle raps are based on earlier rap styles. Conversely everyone else, especially characters like Hamilton and Eliza, sing music that is more modern and do raps that are more complex. It’s a musical indication that Hamilton and Eliza are the new hotness while Jefferson is old and busted.
(It’s also an homage to the same technique of older song styles being used for King Herod’s song in Jesus Christ Superstar, which is why I compared Nick’s song to What’s the Buzz? Yeah it’s not the exact same musically as What You Missed but it is thematically.)
So, when we give music from 1920 and the 1970s to Nick Fury in a song about updating Steve on modern life, what does that mean?
Well it means nothing. There’s no connection between Nick and the music at all. Arguably the only connection is that Nick Fury is Black so he gets a little of that funk beat because he can handle it.
Now to be clear: it doesn’t have to mean anything. This is a theme park show. We’ve already discussed how the concept of both Steves talking to each other turned out to be asking too much of some people. The lack of character connection doesn’t mean that it’s bad.
But what it does mean is that it’s a show where you can see how some things were taped together. Somebody wanted Nick Fury’s music to mean something but they couldn’t reach that goal. Just like somebody wanted Peggy Carter to have a full story arc but whatever was intended for her was so clearly chopped out that her lyrics reference conversations that she and Steve never had.
This is where you can also see those hints that somebody remembered that Rogers: The Musical is supposed to be a bad musical. Nick Fury wears a sequined eyepatch! That’s a great cheesy musical detail. But Peggy being an afterthought is a little too on the nose even if I did predict it nearly a year before the show had its opening night.
(Also amusing me? That I predicted End of the Line would be upsetting to the Steve/Bucky fans in the audience. Granted I predicted it would be a comedic part, not that it would wholesale take Steve’s promise to Bucky and make it about Steve’s love for Peggy. But I’ll let the bigger Captain America fans than me handle that whole mess.)
I will say one thing for What You Missed, however, and it’s that it’s a helpful clue to what the real structure of Rogers: The Musical would be. What Did I Miss opens act 2 of Hamilton. Accordingly it’s not too out of the realm of conjecture to assume that What You Missed opens act 2 of Rogers: The Musical, especially since Steve crashing into the ice makes for a dramatic act 1 break. In terms of pacing, Act One being Steve’s past and Act Two being his present and future, so to speak, works out pretty well.
Granted, it does imply that Clint Barton and his children peacefully sat through well over an hour of a bad show before having to bail, but there’s worse suspensions of disbelief out there.
Which does bring us to the final component of Disneyland’s Rogers: The Musical. Which is oh shit, they have to include the Hawkeye song.
Why Save the City Doesn’t Fit in Disneyland’s Rogers: The Musical
I want to start out by giving Disneyland’s Rogers: The Musical its props: They turned Save the City into a useful song. Steve wearily repeating “I can do this all day” as the world throws crisis after crisis at him did more to explain Steve’s choice to go back in time than the entirety of Endgame. Even folks who liked Endgame, which regular readers know is a club I am not a member of, gave the show a tip of the hat for making Steve’s choice make sense.
That being said, you can tell the song was shoehorned into the show. Reason being it doesn’t match anything in the show. A random guy stands up and starts singing when you have the Starkettes and Nick Fury established as your main and backup exposition squad? The Starkettes don’t even appear except for one of them doing the part that, in the original version, was sung by Ty Taylor?
Now the reason why Save the City was done the way it was done is because Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman wrote that song and have Adam Pascal on speed dial. If you’re writing a song and have Adam Pascal in your back pocket you write for Adam Pascal even if that song is called Mariah Carey In Her Own Words (The All Whistle Note Version).
And you have to include Save the City because that’s the song that started it all. People saw it in Hawkeye, they want to see it on stage.
But you can tell that Disneyland’s Rogers: The Musical evolved well past the song. They frankly didn’t even bother to match the song. There’s no musical leitmotifs pulled from it to tie the entire show together, they didn’t use any of the exposition characters from it (which is again fair: “Random NY guy” doesn’t get Leo pointing meme recognition anymore than “Nameless USO Women” would have), they didn’t do anything to properly set it up like throw in a cameo for Howard Stark (possibly introducing his Starkettes? Or being there when Steve took the serum?) being played by the same actor who plays Tony.
My guess is that their hands were tied in terms of how much they could change and switching out a male singer (Ty) for a female and tweaking some of the lyrics was the most they were allowed to do. But they could’ve still backfilled and taken more inspiration from the song and staging than they did.
The fact that they didn’t suggests to me that as they were workshopping this the idea for the show we got sprang forth and took on a life of its own. We got the cheeky numbers! Then we got the serious numbers! Then we got notes from suits saying take stuff out!
And then oh yeah, shit, the Hawkeye song. Well let’s do what we can with it.
So there ya go. A theme park show, some actual musical moments, and then the Hawkeye song.
A fun 30 minutes, but not a Broadway musical.
As always, things that don’t fit anywhere else:
- Loki appearing on stage for any reason other than to have the shit beaten out of him is another sign this is for a theme park audience. In Clint Barton’s world, having Loki appear would be akin to having Bin Laden show up in Come From Away to do a little soft shoe. In the world of a theme park audience they know a certain segment of his fandom would cheer for Tom Hiddleston Pulls Someone’s Skidmarked Underwear Out From Between Couch Cushions and Yes He’s Wearing the Wig: The Musical. Therefore Loki shows up so the audience can cheer when they see him instead of remembering that in events leading up to the Battle of New York he was rather unsubtly compared to Hitler.
- Speaking of, normally I wouldn’t say this for anything that isn’t a poorly casted version of The Producers but there was a surprising lack of Hitler in this show. Captain America doesn’t punch him as part of his War Bonds pitch and the comic cover that recreates it is him punching a random soldier instead. It makes me wonder if maybe there’s a rule on what topics they’re allowed to raise while on Disney property? Because that’s kind of a glaring omission.
- Another item for the “Is this on purpose and for which audience is it for?” file is that Steve is shown liking being part of the USO. Lack of knowledge about Steve’s history? In-show propaganda? Sadly too hard to tell.
- Also “The War Has Started” can go in that pile because the war had started years ago and America is showing up rather literally late with Starbucks. Purposeful Propaganda? Bad research? Again hard to tell.
- Shout out to Agent Carter costume designer Giovanna Ottobre-Melton for making the idea of Peggy Carter in a fedora so iconic that it shows up in her costume here, even if it’s the wrong color.
- “With bugles playing Taps” is a questionable lyric to have Steve sing considering that by World War II Taps was well established as a song played at military funerals. Yes, it originated as a song played at bedtime but it was so connected to funerals at Steve’s time and now this lyric comes off like Steve just can’t wait for his fellow soldiers to die. I’m going to chalk this one up in the same pile as nobody noticing Peggy references things that never happened.
- Another one for the Steve/Bucky fans to hate: Peggy helps Steve out with the bullies, not Bucky.
- It’s interesting to me that Daredevil was the only TV based character to get a shout out in Nick Fury’s song. You’d think at the very least they would’ve committed to at least one other Disney+ Marvel hero for that. I mean Kamala Khan would’ve gotten a huge audience reaction. People love her, especially kids since they know her from cartoons and video games.
- The lighting and staging of the show was really well done. I unfortunately couldn’t find the names of the specific people who worked on it but if I could I would shout them out. But the use of the backgrounds, the turntable, the colors - chef’s kiss. Really well done.
- How did I see the show even though I’m on the opposite side of the country? Shut up, that’s how.
And that’s all I’ve got. Good theme park show, nice musical bits that snuck in there when nobody was looking, and fun songs all around even if they don’t fit together. Go grab yourself a copy of the cast album as a treat.
Thanks for reading!