The blockbuster musical “Hamilton” has already spawned a slew of parodies, but few are as all-encompassing as “Jeb! The Musical.”
This impressive achievement was inspired by a Facebook meme and led a core group of around 17 college students — and a slew of other contributors — to turn 46 “Hamilton” tracks into an epic chronicling of the 2016 Republican presidential primary, centered on beleaguered former Florida Governor Jeb Bush and including all the colorful political characters we’ve had this year, from Donald Trump to Chris Christie and even some guest spots from the Democrats.
amNewYork reached out to Alex Cohen, one of the creators of “Jeb!,” for an email interview. What we got back was — in a nice nod to the group creation of the work itself — responses answered collaboratively by Cohen and the 16 other lead authors.
What is your background? What do you do for a living?
“Jeb! The Musical” was written collaboratively by a bunch of millennials who have too much free time on their hands. We (about 17 of us) are mostly college students and hail from all across the country. We’re majoring in a wide variety of subjects, including English, science, technology and society, history, politics, economics, psychology, computer science, film, anthropology, international relations, molecular and cell biology, music, illustration and probably some other ones that are accidentally being left off. Also, by no means are we an exhaustive list of collaborators — there are lots of other people that only contributed a little or contributed and then dropped off. We just happen to be the ones who wrote most of the songs and did the majority of the work. Some of the schools that we go to are Berklee, Boston University, Maryland Institute College of Art, McGill, Occidental College, Penn, UConn, University of Michigan, Wellesley [and] Yale.
Have you done other parodies before?
Most of us have made parodies of other things before, but this is our first collaboration as a group and probably the biggest /lengthiest endeavor for everyone involved. None of us have met in real life, but through the power of the Internet we were able to not only create this project but become friends.
This is a massive project, how did it get started?
“Jeb! The Musical” was inspired by a post in a Facebook meme group. A Google doc was created and we hit the ground running. By the end of the week, we had probably written almost three-quarters of the entire musical! We’ve spent the past month refining and tweaking the document, making sure that our parody was not just a quality parody, but good in its own right.
This has a ton of contributors — what specifically did you each do in this project? Where did these contributors come from?
The contributors all came from the Facebook meme group that we’re a part of, and we obviously started with nothing but the actual text of “Hamilton.” Each of us just divvied up the songs unofficially and ran through drafts, and then we collectively edited in the Google doc over a span of a few weeks. Some of us worked on political content, humor, meter, rhymes — we all did a little bit of everything.
Have you seen “Hamilton”? If so, what was your opinion of the show?
The majority of us have not seen “Hamilton” — one or two have — but we would all love to see the show as we are obviously huge fans of Lin-Manuel Miranda and his works. The music from “Hamilton” obviously inspired all of us greatly, and we couldn’t have done what we did without just a great show to parody.
How long has this project been in the works?
The project mostly started around March 18, and the majority was completed quite quickly — within three or four days. The rest of the time since then has been minor edits ensuring continuity of the story, fixing the meter and rhyme scheme and organizing the document (headers, footnotes, outlines, etc.). We weren’t planning on officially releasing it until it was totally done, but it leaked out and now we’re rolling with it!
Do you have a favorite parody song in “Jeb!”?
While we love all the songs we wrote, our collective favorites are probably “Jeb! Bush, Exclamation Point,” “Full Stop” and “The Story of Iraq.”
What was the most difficult song to parody?
The hardest ones to write were “Bern,” “Ten Debate Commandments” and “My (Exclamation) Point!” The last one especially so, it [“My Shot”] is one of the most iconic and complex songs in “Hamilton,” and we spent an inordinate amount of time trying to perfect it and write something worthy of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical genius.
What do you think “Jeb!” says about the current political scene?
It needs more musical numbers, fast-paced lyricism and spontaneous dancing. And clapping. But really, the fact that we were able to so easily find analogies and similarities between Lin-Manuel Miranda’s story of the American Revolution and the “Devolution” of today’s Republican Primary was rather startling, and shows that maybe the politics of America’s birth and today aren’t so different. The viciousness, entertaining personalities and general craziness of this election season collectively make for great theater.
Besides a good laugh, what do you want people to get out of reading and singing “Jeb!”?
We want people to see a new, softer, more sensitive side to Jeb. While we may not believe in his policies, he’s really quite lovable in our eyes, and we wanted to express our sincere love for him and his achievements with our work. Also, hopefully, next time he holds a press conference, there will be plenty of clapping. This election season has been crazy and intense, and so hopefully this lets people put it in perspective and just enjoy themselves
Any chance we will see live/online performances of this?
There are no current plans for a live performance, but it’s definitely something we would all love to see. It’s a collective dream of ours to see the “Hamilton” cast singing something from our musical, although any type of performance would be amazing. There was also some discussion about having some of us record numbers from the show. Stay tuned!
Have you had any response from Lin-Manuel Miranda or anyone else from “Hamilton”?
We haven’t yet heard from Lin-Manuel Miranda or the cast, but we’re confident that as the Internet picks this up we’ll get some sort of response. Having them read or respond to this would be the ultimate honor, as we wouldn’t have been able to have such a fun time writing this without their amazing work as a base. In the meantime, you can help us reach him and get “official” updates by following us on Twitter @jebmusical and liking us on Facebook here.