Like almost everyone, when I heard the title Casey Stampfield: The Musical I heard it wrong. I assumed that the musical was about Stacey Campfield, the Knoxville lawmaker who has done more than any other to keep Tennessee on Jon Stewart’s political radar. Last year, locals Michael McFaden, Mark Beall, and Bradley Moore decided that comedians around the country shouldn’t have the Stacey Campfield market cornered and set out to write a musical comedy sendup of the "beloved" politician.

One reason for the main character’s renaming is that there is already a Stacey Campfield parody show. But McFaden admitted, “He’s such a loose cannon, we had no real idea how he’d react, so we changed the name of the main character.” Not that it takes a political genius to see past that clever renaming! Indeed even Campfield seemed to notice, but when interviewed about the show, he seemed to have good humor about it. One wonders if that humor will last once the content, and the hilarity of it, sets in. Moore thinks it ought to last: “He should love it. He’s been in the news so much for negative things, at least this is neutral for him, not some new controversy!”

Music City Theatre Company, created by artistic director Bradley Moore, describes Casey Stampfield as “a hysterical, musical lampoon of a controversial state senator from east Tennessee. The show follows the trials & tribulations of a sordid politician’s journey through congress as he attempts to keep his foot out of his mouth.”

The show began to take shape after McFaden heard in the summer of 2013 that someone had written a Campfield musical, and he determined that it had to be staged in Middle Tennessee. However, Stacey Campfield: The Musical turned out to be not quite what McFaden was looking for (check it out here). “I listened to the download,” he said, “and for me it had more of the character of a rock album, and didn’t lend itself well to a theatrical staging. Not for a theatregoing audience anyway. So I thought, why don’t we start writing our own?”

The writers knew they wanted it to be a comedy show, but McFaden admits he’s no satirist. So how did his musical ever get written? Bradley Moore points out that Saturday Night Live’s coverage of Sarah Palin is comparable to their show. “They didn’t so much write Sarah Palin as let Sarah Palin write her own lines. That was the genius of it: they could never have outdone her, they just let her talk!” In the end, Stampfield wrote itself in much the same way.

Indeed even Campfield seemed to notice, but, when interviewed about the show, he demonstrated good humor about it. The controversy he keeps creating wrote them out of one major production hole. The original script covered an incident in Campfield’s career when he joined the black Caucus, but the number, “Once You Go Black,” had to be cut due to casting difficulties. At around the time when the decision was being made to cut that piece, Campfield made public comments comparing Obamacare enrollment to Jews taking a “train ride” during the holocaust.

I had the distinction of being present during rehearsals on the first night “Senator from Knoxville,” set to the music of "Chattanooga Choo-Choo," was practiced. While heavily referencing the holocaust comment controversy, the song makes a relatively straightforward statement about Campfield’s unwillingness to spare the public new controversies: “I am not your average carrot top on Capitol Hill – I assure you I will never stop sponsoring ludicrous bills!” That’s so true it might not even be funny if it wasn’t set to music!

When asked whether it’s hard to play the notoriously anti-gay lawmaker, Chad Webb, an openly gay actor, was reflective, and quite serious. “When I play a part I want to know what motivates them. I feel some discomfort playing Campfield because when I get inside of him I can see some of what I used to be.” Webb spent years in the closet and married (ironically to the woman who is stage manager of Casey Stampfield, with whom he remains great friends), and grew up in a religious environment that supports positions like Campfield’s. “Getting in the role and playing this guy, well I can remember saying and doing things like that. I lost a friend in Miami because I was so in his face with my homophobic opinions,” Webb admits. Not surprisingly, Webb values roles that allow him to work for the other side now.

For writer Moore, one of the most satisfying aspects of the show is the attention it’s drawing: “It seems like the perfect formula for theatrical success is write about a polarizing public figure. Usually theatre gets so little interest from those who aren’t theatre junkies, unless it’s a hugely famous show!” McFaden said news of the show has led to the writers getting suggestions for new material from people not involved in the project. “Del Shores just sent us a lot of material but it was too late anyway. But if he isn’t defeated, as long as he stays in the public eye, we basically have a show that can evolve forever.” As funny as the show is, and believe me you don’t know the half of it, here’s hoping we see the final version here in Nashville this summer!

Casey Stampfield: The Musical will end its three week run at the Vibe Entertainment Complex on Church Street this week with shows Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm. Special performances are upcoming on August 1 and 2 at the Darkhorse Theater for the Sideshow Fringe Festival as well as August 7, Election Day. For ticket information, see mctc.ticketleap.com.

 

 

 

 

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