Editor’s Letter, April 2019: If Cincinnati’s Past Was a Musical

John Fox, Editor-in-Chief

Illustration by Lars Leetaru

Last month, I saw Hamilton at the Aronoff Center, and I’m still buzzing. Now I get how the show’s rap lyrics, hip-hop choreography, and edgy casting turned Broadway upside down, and I marvel that it brought the Founding Fathers to life as real people, not history book caricatures.

I got to thinking of what a Hamilton-like show about seminal moments in Cincinnati would focus on—which significant people or events would a composer choose to help tell our city’s story? Maybe he or she would find an unknown person or forgotten event to represent a larger narrative or theme. The resulting blockbuster show would make this place the singing-and-dancing capital of the world, or at least Ohio.

Lots of possibilities come to mind as I scroll through “10 Events That Shaped Cincinnati,” our cover package in this month’s issue. Let’s start with an adventure story built around the founding of a small settlement on the Ohio River that’s soon renamed for a Revolutionary War military society whose first two leaders are George Washington and Alexander Hamilton. Cue the song “My Shot.”

How about Daniel Drake, starring the “Frontier Leonardo” physician and dreamer who starts two colleges in 1819 that eventually merge to form the University of Cincinnati, and is fired from the schools repeatedly. Or Roebling, about the engineer who designs a daring and elegant bridge to knit together Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky forever and goes on to fame for his Brooklyn Bridge.

I’d buy a ticket for Ratterman, the swashbuckling tale of sex, blackmail, and the mafia where a football hero cleans up dirty old Newport in the early 1960s. Maybe someone will create an opera about the famous thunderstorm in 1875 that brings the May Festival to a halt and leads to construction of Music Hall; call it Tin Roof Rusted, with the B-52s’ “Love Shack” tossed in for fun.

My favorite might be Marian, in which our heroine Marian Spencer ushers in Cincinnati’s Civil Rights era so her children can play at segregated Coney Island. In a just world, this small but mighty woman, who soon turns 99, would be a star.

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