There are musicals about our founding fathers, cute orphans, the French Revolution... And now? There’s a musical about climate change. The Cape Cod Theater Company in Harwich is debuting the world premiere of “Crude: The Climate Change Musical.”
During early rehearsals, director Fran Lautenberger found herself hurrying around the stage, ordering changes be made to the set, props be found, actors moved.
“Can you get up on the table, please?” she called out to a young actress.
Lautenberger knows this show could be a tough sell; yes, there are musical fanatics, and yes, there are climate change zealots. But how much do those circles overlap?
“I was at my physical therapist and he goes, ‘Climate change musical? Boy, that sounds boring,’” Lautenberger said. “That's what people say. And you're like, ‘No, no — entertaining.’”
The actors range in age from 17 to 74. They play characters like a slimy corporate crook, an accountant turned whistleblower, and a public relations whiz.
“It's about an environmentalist daughter who tries to outwit her oil tycoon dad,” explained Cape-based playwright Maureen Condon. “It's a fun musical romp through the world of big oil and high stakes public relations, where solar startups and wind startups are pawns in a game of family politics and corporate intrigue.”
The show features songs like “Face the Water,” a tune that turns warnings about sea level rise into rhyme: “Dad, if you don't do what you oughta, we're going to have to face the water, and watch our coastal cities wash away,” sings actress Ann Vohs.
Climate change stories are everywhere these days, but setting it to music adds a whole new dimension.
“Well, I wanted to write a musical anyway, and since climate change is my favorite topic...” Condon said, trailing off with a laugh.
Condon was inspired to write the show because, she says, living on the Cape means you’re constantly aware of the threats from rising seas and a changing climate.
“I think most people — a lot of people — tune out climate change. It is terrifying,” she said. “But I think arts are a wonderful way to engage the public in a discussion and thoughtful processing of information about tough issues.”
On the Cape, sea levels are expected to rise by as many as three feet in the next 30 years. At the same time, more intense storms could dump feet rather than inches of rain, flooding homes and increasing erosion. Sometimes those kinds of facts feel inaccessible, or too bleak to really think about.
“Comedy is uniquely equipped to bring people's defenses down while exposing how there are many ways of knowing,” said Max Boykoff, a social researcher at the University of Colorado Boulder and author of “Creative (Climate) Communications.”
He says we have to find new ways to talk about climate change to achieve wider awareness.
“Not everybody wakes up in the morning and pulls out the latest issue of Science or Nature and starts reading peer-reviewed research with their morning coffee,” Boykoff said. “People engage with these issues in a variety of ways. Having, say, a musical, just opens up another pathway or another opportunity for people to engage who otherwise may not take an interest or may not see the connections between their lives and a changing climate.”
No matter what audience members take in about climate change, says director Fran Lautenberger, most of all she wants them to have a good time.
“We want you to enjoy yourself and be like, ‘Yeah, I really want to see this, and this is fun,’” Lautenberger said. “And oh, by the way, oh, we might go green at the end there.”
“Crude: The Climate Change Musical” will run every Thursday through Sunday from Oct. 10 to Nov. 10 at the Cape Cod Theater Company in Harwich.