By Mira Brody EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – Curl up with a bowl of popcorn, a hot toddy and your dog. The entertainment is presented by the Warren Miller Performing Art Center, but tonight you’ll have the luxury of experiencing the local arts from the comfort of your own pajamas, on the couch, favorite snacks in hand. WMPAC.live delivers local performing art center-quality entertainment without leaving your home.
On Jan. 23, WMPAC presented “Behind the Curtain: Jeannette the Musical,” a pop musical based on the true life events of Montana’s most prominent female figure, Jeannette Rankin. Rankin was a fearless trailblazer, diehard suffragette, and elected to Congress in 1916, three years before women earned the right to vote in the U.S. Imagine that: earning votes before your own demographic could cast one.
“Jeannette the Musical” is a unique experience, a behind-the-scenes musical with actors on-stage, reading scripts-in-hand, with behind-the-scenes clips that reveal exactly how a musical comes to life on a Broadway stage.
Written by prominent playwright Lauren M. Gunderson and pop singer Ari Afsar, “Jeannette the Musical” follows Rankin’s journey to Congress, her undying need to fight for the rights of those without them, and her family’s struggle to accept her against-the-grain beliefs during a time when women were expected to be seen and not heard.
Between on-stage scenes, Gunderson appears on a screen and narrates the backstory of Rankin as she progresses as the first-ever woman to speak in the Montana Legislature to a room full of men, and Afsar, also on-screen, provides strong musical numbers.
At first, the performance appears like a historical enactment, but we learn quickly that Rankin’s struggle to earn rights for women is one still being fought by many in the U.S. On-stage actors present their own stories of voicelessness: voter suppression, gerrymandering and Jim Crow tactics prevent many minorities from casting their vote to this day.
On Jan. 20, Kamala Harris became the first woman, person of color, including of African and South Asian decent, to be sworn in as vice president of the United States. This was 100 years after women earned the right to vote, a span of time not lost on the theme of the musical—change can sometimes take a very long time. Despite its sometimes-slow progress, Rankin truly believed in the power of a single vote.
Rankin was elected for two terms as a Republican representative, in 1916 and 1940. Both of her terms coincided with world wars and she was the only member of Congress who opposed the declaration of war on Germany in 1917 and the declaration of war on Japan following the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. She was told by her family and constituents that if she voted not to go to war, “they would eat her alive,” and that she’d “never be heard from again.”
A devout pacifist, Rankin stood by her vote, famously citing that, “As a woman I can’t go to war, and I refuse to send anyone else.” Although her political career was over shortly after, her career as a suffragette and a warrior for those without a voice was not—and she never once regretted her vote. The performance concludes with each on-stage character casting their script into a lone ballot box.
Although WMPAC has invested in ensuring the utmost safety in their theater during the pandemic, WMPAC.live allows a great alternative for those with young children who are not yet able to sit still in a theater, those at higher-risk of COVID-19 or anyone looking to limit their exposure.
It’s also just a great excuse for a quality date night without leaving the house. So order your favorite takeout, pop some popcorn and cozy up with your significant other, friends, family, dogs and cats, and be assured that the local arts are available to you, wherever you are.