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Gershwin: Love Is Sweeping the Country

My Wolf Trap concert ends with a bang: Gershwin’s “Love Is Sweeping the Country,” done in its original arrangement—a bracing two-step. The song comes from “Of Thee I Sing,” the first musical to win a Pulitzer Prize. But the award was given only to the book-and-lyrics team of Morrie Ryskind, George. S. Kaufman, and Ira Gershwin, not to the composer, George Gershwin. At that time, the Pulitzer was still strictly a literary prize—no musicians allowed.

Gershwin is officially my favorite composer, though I am musically polyamorous and could never really choose just one. Still, I need to have an answer for that age-old question, and it’s simpler to come up with a name people recognize. Among Gershwin’s stage works, “Of Thee I Sing” goes to the head of the class. It is number two on my list of Best Classic Broadway Shows. (What is #1, you ask? “The Boys From Syracuse.” Not a better work of art, perhaps, but loony and smart in a way that always speaks to me.)

As you probably remember, “Of Thee I Sing” tells the story of a Presidential election marked by subterfuge, manipulation, foreign intrigue, and dirty politics. Yet the story is imbued with charm, wit, and a light spirit—a perfect antidote to the grimy circus of the last twelve months. Wintergreen, the politician who ultimately wins the election (his slogan is “The flavor lasts”), is running on the Love Platform, just the message the nation craves.

I remember hearing Lin-Manuel Miranda at last year’s Tony Award ceremony when he read his acceptance in the form of a poem—“ And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love/cannot be killed or swept aside,/Now fill the world with music, love, and pride.” I pretty much lost it when I heard those words. This is the philosophy that has always sustained me, especially during rough times. “Love Is Sweeping the Country” echoes Lin-Manuel’s sentiment, only in a fizzier and daffier way. How sweet to think of a country so filled with love that bitter adversaries are suddenly gazing at one another like besotted fools. And who can resist a song whose first lyric is “Why are people gay/All the night and day?” Certainly not me.

The Wolf Trap shows are June 3 and 4, and I am extremely excited about them. I even have a sensational and appropriate encore whose identity I cannot divulge right now. Come to the Barns at WT and find out for yourself. Join me and Joseph Li—and Madison Leonard—and Annie Rosen—and Jonas Hacker—and Michael Hawk—for the love-feast you need right now.

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