The Going Rogue Musical: There’s a Plot Afoot

In Alaska, no one can hear you scream.

Like the book itself, our Going Rogue musical is full of holes. Unlike the book, we intend to fill them.

Our story thus far: After three days of intensive brainfarting last week, we have a broad structure and a handful of key scenes and song titles. (We also have some suggested lyrics, which are noted but not covered here.) Our goal this weekend is to fit the remaining pieces together — allowing for plenty of digression and threadjacks, since nobody’s on the clock and we don’t have punch and pie to keep you focused.

Herewith, an annotated extract of our efforts. Please note that the zombie is non-negotiable.

Act One

Scene 1: Juneau, Summer 2007

A cruise ship docks in the harbor. An assembly of HAPPY VILLAGERS gathers to greet them, singing “You Betcha!”, a peppy tune that sets the mood of our show, features rampaging moose, and earns us the wrath of snooty theatre queens.

As the crowd disperses, a group of ASSISTANTS runs around looking for the Alaska governor, who’s late for a meeting. SARAH PALIN enters, ducking them, and sings “When Will My Ship Come In?”, a wistful song expressing frustrated ambition.

(Contrary to presumption and reality, Sarah is played as a musical heroine, not an object of audience scorn. We’ll save Truth for the lyrics.)

Her song finished, Sarah bumps into a stranger off the ship — BILL KRISTOL, himself bedeviled by thwarted ambition. Bill sees in Sarah a kindred soul, and promises her that “This Time! (Kristol Ball)” he’ll be right in his judgment.

But the Assistants re-emerge to direct Sarah to her meeting, taking her from Bill, and their love cannot yet be consummated. But “Someday, Sarah”, it will.

Scene 2: A Smoke-Filled Room, Summer 2008

It is a year later, and the ADVISORS to the Republican nominee for President are scurrying about, uncertain what to do about their opponent. JOHN McCAIN walks into the room, and they express their concerns in a rousing chorus of “Celebrity”. McCain suggests they call Bill Kristol for advice, and the Advisors laugh. That idiot?

Scene 3: The Palin Family Home, Wasilla

Here we face our first Plot Hole: We need to introduce TODD PALIN and the PALIN KIDS. It’s been suggested that we pay special attention to PIPER, who could serve as a real voice of reason in our show. Also, we’ll need to establish that Todd is suspicious of Bill. Todd is the past, Bill the future.

Scene 4: The Wasilla Sports Complex

Location optional — this scene could easily grow out of the previous. But here’s where we meet BRISTOL PALIN, a Daughter, and LEVI JOHNSTON, a Pestorker. They have a Big Secret — one that, contrary to reality, need not be known to Sarah. (Piper, of course, knows everything.) Their love song should express dreams available to teenagers of their class and station. In other words: fucking depressing.

Scene 5: A Smoke-Filled Room

Now that all our characters have been introduced, we can set them in motion. McCain is frustrated with his Advisors, who aren’t presenting him any good options. Over their strong objections, he calls Bill Kristol for help.

Bill needs to lead McCain to water, and make him drink. Does Bill suggest a “Hail Mary”? We’re not sure.

Scene 6: Sarah’s Debut

This is the first peak of our story, and we have a lot of ground to cover. McCain needs to meet Sarah minutes before he announces her to the world, then escort her onto the national stage singing “Mavericks”. (This should be a peppy song, although it’s been suggested that Maverics be a ballad, which would require moving it elsewhere.)

Scenes 7+: The Republican Convention

We have no idea how to structure this (and we’re not at all confident about the previous two scenes for that matter), but questions need to be raised about who this woman is, facts on her record like helicopter shooting, the Bristol news, and so on. Serious doubts need to be raised whether Sarah can survive the week. Following the momentary peak of her debut, we need to see her on the brink of failure. Which sets up…

Final Scene: The Nomination Speech

Sarah finds her voice — and her audience. Whatever we do here, it needs to be rousing, sending everyone to the lobby in a good mood as the curtain falls.

Act Two

Scene 1: Mall of America

This is our big shopping spree, a combination of I Think I’m Gonna Like It Here and Be Our Guest. Lots of hubbub, because that’s how you’re supposed to open second acts. If we’re looking for something to Piper to do, she can express concern that Mom & Dad are going a little overboard.

Scene: Television Interviews

We’re not numbering this or following scenes, since much of Act Two is an amorphous blob right now, at least until we near the end. But we should be seeing more of McCain’s Advisors as events progress, fretting that the boss has chosen a real airhead and dealing with the consequences. We should also see Sarah crying on Bill’s shoulder, which makes Todd ever more suspicious.

We’ll also looking for opportunities to compress multiple events into single scenes (which can, in turn, morph from one event to another). And somewhere in all this, Sarah sings “I Can See Russia!”

Final note about this Gaping Hole: The final scenes are going long, so we don’t need filler here. But we do need enough.

Scene: Vice Presidential Debate/Grand Guignol

The centerpiece of our show. We see it in two parts. The first, conventional, part covers debate prep and initial questions. But then Sarah is asked whether she is prepared to be a heartbeat away from the presidency.

And that’s when we cut loose.

“Heartbeat Away” — we’re hearing it as a wicked waltz — is a dystopian fantasy taking place in Sarah’s head about what she would do if she were really President. It begins with McCain being shot from a helicopter, continues with ever-ascending levels of ludicrousness, and only ends when McCain returns — as a zombie! — to wrest back his office from her. Sarah fades back into the debate, and nobody notices because nothing she says makes sense anyway.

(FlyingChainSaw will happily fill in details.)

After a showstopper like this, there’s nothing left but to wrap things up. And so we do.

Final Scene: Election Night

McCain loses. He doesn’t lose immediately, but he loses soon enough. This is because we need to get to the backstage drama where the Advisors prevent Sarah from giving her concession speech. Everyone heads out, leaving only Sarah and Bill on stage. Bill tells her to deliver the speech to an empty house — empty except for him.

And so she does: “The Wink of an Eye”, her Don’t Cry for Me moment. It’s a slow, brooding, bitter song, where she lashes out at everyone who stood in her way.

But as she sings, a strange thing happens: People start wandering back in. They’re listening to her — to Sarah, unfiltered by the Advisors. She didn’t lose the election. McCain did.

That’s when she — and we — finally see her destiny.

Finale: Going Rogue!

This almost has to be a march, something both festive and martial. We’re sending the audience out cheering, and in the lyrics we can cover The Future As We Know It, from turkey beheadings to quitting to death panels to book tours. Sarah has a bright future ahead of her.

Even if it makes us cower in fear.


If anything looks vague, it is. We’re happy with the highlights, but we’re waving our hands at the subplots — we don’t have the degree of detail we’d like. It’s not sufficiently articulated. We haven’t yet told the story to our satisfaction. But it’s getting there.

The Going Rogue Musical: InspirationProposalOpening Scene [Stinque]

I like the idea of Piper as one-person chorus. I think that whenever she appears she should be accompanied by Todd who she will guide around on a leash. Todd, of course, will have no lines, just occasionally growl in response to Piper.

Looks good, but mind you I’m no musical type.

An assembly of HAPPY VILLAGERS gathers to greet them… and earns us the wrath of snooty theatre queens.

You can laugh now, buddy, but don’t come crying to me when they put you next to the kitchen at Joe Allen and you have to live in South Orange.

Nojo, you think we can compress the entire helicopter assassination and McCain-as-zombie sequence into one song? I figured there is enough there to play it out in different scenes all the way to the end of story. Such as: McCain Zombie walks to Wasilla and kidnaps Willow – and Talibunny sings a song about her fears that the media will condemn her parenting skills. I think the way to play it is to follow her book as the autohagiogaphic narrative and then, after ‘Heartbeat Away’ intersperse scenes from Palin’s America that show her administration devolving into an apocalyptic trainwreck with Talibunny blaming the media, the party, her staff and, finally, god and vows to destroy his evil, failed world in revenge and demands the launch codes.

I think the order of scenes 6 and 7+ may need to be reversed. The convention itself can just be the background for the introduction of Sarah and her nomination speech.

Don’t the delegates always wave signs? Maybe the signs can have idiotic misspelled teabagger slogans on them, foreshadowing THE ANGRY VILLAGERS.

And we might consider giving Joe Lieberman a song between Mavericks and the nomination speech.

Song title proposal for Scene 4: Is That Is Or Is That Ain’t My Baby?

Scene 3, First Plot Hole. Piper starts singing Poster Child for Life, a duet with Todd, in which Piper laments that it’s easy to be overlooked in such a large brood, while Todd wonders if he should impregnate Sarah again in an effort to distract her from her new svengali (Kristol).

This way we can mention the rest of the Palin kids without really having them take space on the stage. Bristol, Piper and Trig will have their own story arcs, but the rest of them stay in the background.

@Pedonator: There should at least be a mention of the stoner son with DUIs being shipped off to Iraq.

@SanFranLefty: I fear (because I’ll need to do it…) that we’ll need a lot of research into details for lyrics. Everything that isn’t covered in an Iconic Moment needs to get squeezed in somehow.

@FlyingChainSaw: I should say an extended song for Heartbeat Away — we’re look at something akin to Broadway Melody in Singin’ in the Rain. However it plays out, couching it all within a song makes it easier to go over the top.

@Benedick: If John Adams can pull off Happy Villagers for Nixon in China, we have an excuse. Besides, Pedo’s proposed lyrics cover some essential ground, like meth labs. Also, Palin did have sky-high approval ratings at the time, so reality helps our nefarious cause.

@Pedonator: You might be right about the Convention — that whole stretch is an utter blur to me right now. I don’t want to resort to scene-scene-scene-scene-scene, because that would impede momentum.

Maybe I’m placing too much weight on the Friday Debut, since the Nomination Speech is the real highlight. What’s more important is that McCain barely has a chance to meet Sarah before making his decision. And the turmoil that follows.

@Pedonator: Ditching the Kids may also be a wise move, to make room for Piper. They’re just props anyway.

Hmmm… Literally props…?

@nojo: Re: props. Don’t you still have some little green foam Duck hands hanging around the house? Just glue each kid’s face on a hand.

@SanFranLefty: That would be a clever solution — especially since eventually we have to boil this down to nine actors. Any “crowd” (villagers, advisors, kids) needs to be played by the same people.

@ManchuCandidate: I like the broad strokes, but I don’t see it start-to-finish yet. But this is the kind of thing that wakes me up at three in the morning: If I can get a good handle on the problems, the solutions tend to magically suggest themselves.

@nojo: If I can get a good handle on the problems, the solutions tend to magically suggest themselves. Good luck with that. And expect to make at least 40 drafts. And as before noted, Nixon in China is an opera with libretto by Alice Goodman who invented characters, situations, etc. It does not behave like a musical.

One word re structure: musicals today do not have discrete scenes; everything flows together till the moment that you either end the act or wish to add big-time emphasis. When writing a modern musical one must always be planning transitions, how to move from place to place.

As librettist you can suggest where songs might come and what they might be about. The composer and lyricist will then take your ideas and mock you to all their friends before coming up with their own scheme. However, perhaps you can plan another way.

@Benedick: And expect to make at least 40 drafts.

My dear fellow, I’ve been a writer since high school. I know full well the “stare at a blank page until blood spurts from your forehead” side of things.

I’m also fully versed in solutions suggesting themselves once problems are well-defined. Intuition is a strange and marvelous thing, once you learn how to harness it.

musicals today do not have discrete scenes; everything flows together

I’m actually aiming for some form of that — segues are everything. We can’t avoid scenes here, given our subject, but the more I can group in one location, the better. A solution that would compress the Convention into a long, well-articulated moment (as opposed to cutting away to Levi at the Airport) would make me very happy. (I envision the Advisors scurrying from crisis to crisis.)

The composer and lyricist will then take your ideas and mock you to all their friends before coming up with their own scheme.

Well, of course. It’s not like I’m the producer.

I wish I could be there on opening night …

@nojo: How scenes move can be/should be an exciting element of the story-telling. This is an aspect of the musicalness of musicals that is one of the strengths of the form.

@Benedick: Full agreement — that’s one of the fun creative challenges of this project. (There’s a reason I want to stitch a crowd rushing Sarah off with another crowd ushering McCain on.)

I’m playing a broad hunch here: that a Sarah Palin musical is conceivable, and properly conceived, actually makes more sense of her story than dull reality. (To answer another of your lingering questions: Why a musical? It’s the only form that does the story justice.)

So, yes: Flow. We’re not there yet, but I think we can do this without seams.

Still to come: Pushing a real boat up a real mountain, and the horrific hurricane that destroys our jungle set. I’m really doing this for the documentary.

@nojo: I think the Making Of… should be Errol Morris-style, with reenactments. Lots of long takes in development meetings, Benedick at the head of the table, with a whip.

Sport TJ by a girl:

Toby Gerhart was robbed, but he’s probably going to be a Rhodes Scholar given his Engineering major at The Tree, so he has nothing to worry about. Plus Jesus didn’t love Tebow or McCoy tonight (enough with the Jesus shit, guys), and Mark Ingram and his grandfather are adorable, and it’s shocking that no player from Alabama has ever won before, so I’m okay with it. I was totally rooting for Suh or Gerhart, though. And Mr. SFL was rooting for “Anyone but Tebow” which the vote returns seem to support.

/end Sport TJ, go back to planning your musical, boys, and I’m now watching the America’s Next Top Model marathon on Bravo to make sure the estrogen returns to my body.

Possibilities for Act Two

Mall of America:

Perhaps Piper can run around snatching prospective purchases out of Sarah’s and Todd’s hands, with a refrain of “How much will this cost?”

Television Interviews:

Could this be a medley? I Can See Russia alternating with All Of Them, I Read All Of Them?

Set note: Giant Vladimir Putin head floats across the stage while model airplanes representing the Alaska Air Force buzz around it ineffectually. Think King Kong.

Debate / Grand Guignol:

Can the debate itself somehow be designed like a game show? Especially if we nab Bob Barker as Biden? A spin of the Wheel of Fortune can lead us into the Heartbeat Away fantasia…I know we’re mixing up shows here, but, poetic license.

@SanFranLefty: Huh? Does this have something to do with that Heinie-man prize they were blathering about on the radio while I was driving home from massage a bit ago?

@Pedonator: If we can make a zombie Klaus Kinski, it could play Benedick in Making Of…. I hear he was a tyrant on set. The documentary needs its own zombie, I think.

@karen marie: Wasn’t Piper-as-chorus your idea? Why would you not be at opening night, front-row center?

A note about Sarah’s relationship to Kristol: I don’t think it should be played as pure romance.

I see Bill infatuated with Sarah for the obvious reasons, plus the recognition of a political tabula rasa upon which he can scribe his infernal blueprints for constructing an Eternal Neocon Wet Dream.

Sarah is infatuated with her perceived notion of Bill’s influence and what it can do for her ambitions. In the back of her mind she wonders if she could find Bill attractive enough to fuck, but then she remembers Todd’s manly, hairy chest.

Todd feels genuinely threatened by what he imagines is Bill’s intellectual superiority to him, i.e., That Guy Thinks About Things!, a rousing number that lets Todd vent all his frustrations and insecurities about life in the shadow of a nascent superstar.

@Pedonator: Tyrant? Me? I’m a puppy dog.

By the way, I see that a new musical is about to open based on Enron. Could they have scooped Going Rogue?

All I am gonna say is that its way insider-y. Like, you have to know lots of politics to understand why a lot of the action is occurring and being presented as it is.

I am just thinking a lot of the points you are making with plot could be made with songs, and the plot made simpler.

I thought Palin was on that cruise, and the whole Kristol thing could be done with a song by kristol, in which he sings something about how he is the big brain of the conservative movement and knows what it needs, and he has this epiphany, Palin, as he looks at her and sings, is suffused with light, radiant, and he sees her as the Joan of Arc to give life to the movement. Good lyrics would make plain that he is just infatuated, puppy love, while he blindly lets his gonads affect his judgment and see her as a great politician, despite her obvious failings. He might even sing something about her fractured syntax and fuzzy logic being just like the great Saint Ronnie.

This is just a single example of how a song can power through a lot of things.

I don’t know shit about musicals, except I have seen a few I like. When I, dumbass that I am, see how to plot out a musical, I see it as a series of songs, with plot as necessary to connect the songs.

Kristol epiphany song, introduces his delusions of being kingmaker, and his puppy-love making him see her as a potential great politician.

First Palin song, provides her background, her ambitions, her narcissim, softly, not overplaying anything.

Palin family song, introducing members of her family, each of whom sing a verse in turn presenting their situation and character, Todd is explained here, and the pregnancy.

McCain song, a kinda duet, McCain under one spot, singing about his ambtions, long wait for his last chance, that he is behind, and needs to make a big splash with VP choice, then advisors, singing as a chorus, presenting their thoughts, the debate between him and advisors over whom to nominate presented in the form of a verse sung by him, a verse sung by them, finally, he chooses her.

Palin gets the call, and then a Palin family number about it all. During this number, the pregnancy comes out, is discussed in song, and Palin displays ambition overcoming judgment and deciding to go ahead, with daughter expressing doubt, about going on national stage a pregnant high-school dropout.

Then the convention.

I don’t know shit, but I just see a lot of weight could be carried in lyrics, they are good for presenting internal motivation and back history.

Someone just tell me to shut up before I make a bigger fool of myself.

@Promnight: I don’t know shit about musicals either, almost none of us do, as Benedick never hesitates to point out. (Benedick, not picking on you tonight, we all defer, except when we don’t, to your professional judgment.)

I like many of your ideas and that’s what it’s all about at this stage of the game, yes? I agree that good lyrics will finally glue the whole thing together. Meanwhile, let’s steer this ship straight into the storm called brain!

I disagree about Kristol though. He would never let his gonads think for him, besides, they shriveled up long ago, in the ’80’s, when he mistook Nancy for a cougar and she showed him her claws.

With Sarah, he fancies himself a Machiavelli, even when the audience knows he is Grima Wormtongue.

I imagine him trying to be Professor ‘Enry ‘Iggins with Palin as ‘iza Doolittle aka My Fair Lady.

@ManchuCandidate: You hit on the better analogy.

@FlyingChainSaw: Great call. The Shat could really shine with that.

Scene 3: The Palin Family Home, Wasilla – I can’t believe I am suggesting this, but a spinoff of “It’s a Hard Knock Life?” Showing the family she leaves behind/ignores/uses as props? Or spinoff of “Maybe” from the same Show That Shall Not Be Named? They could ask where Mommy is, and he gathers them around to tell them via that song.

Song for Bristol/Levi – Thunder Road-ish? But a suggestion for that scene – cut it, have them come in at the end of the Todd/kids song and announce to everyone they’re preggers, and to keep it a secret from Mom. Family moves offstage, the couple goes into their song.

wait a minute…it’s been done, haven’t you seen man of la mancha?

oh yes, and shatner (as mcCain) singing, “to dream..the…im…possible…..dream.”

@Pedonator: No, no, no, this is so not Piper. Go back in your mind, think about Piper. I really must insist as I think you all are really missing the boat with her. She is a very significant character in relation to Palin. She’s not a scold, she is a humanist, concern about money does not figure in with her in any way. Her mother claims the crown of Hockey Mom but Piper knows it is false and becoming more false after the nomination. I must argue here for her song — “What About The Children?”

As to why I might not make it to opening night, well, let’s just say I may have congealed on the floor by the time it happens.

@karen marie: I hate to point out to the Piper-as-voice-of-reason lovers that the little princess attended her mom’s gubernatorial inauguration wearing a tiara (this photo was my Brand W avatar) and was photographed in fall 2008 boarding the campaign plane carrying her very own Louis Vuitton tote.

@Mistress Cynica: Perfect. At some point in the story, Piper can sing a soliloquy while taking a shit in her Louis Vuitton bag.

@RomeGirl: I keep getting distracted by imagining the kids doing Hard Knock Life or Lonely Goatherd.

@Mistress Cynica: Yeah, no, I’m not arguing her as a voice of reason. Of course she wore a tiara. I mean, she is only 7. But her mother has put her in a very bad position for someone of her age — she’s used her as an emotional crutch, someone who has to be supportive no matter what. The Vuitton bag and tiara — given to her by her mother — are indicative of the emotional void that exists in the Palin household. Trig is the obvious symbol of Palin’s inability to treat her own kids with respect, but Piper could be the character who gives it a voice.

In fact, the scene in Sarah’s book where she asks Piper to pray with her before the debate and Piper tells her it would be cheating demonstrates vividly how far she feels a disconnect between what her mother says and what her mother does. Her mother makes her important by making her a constant companion, calling her “sister,” etc., but totally gives her short shrift when it comes to acknowledging Piper as a valued human being — keeping her out of school, away from her friends — and burdening her with experiences no kid should have to deal with. Can you imagine what it must be like to be her? Made the guardian of her mother’s emotional well being in the face of national laughter?

@karen marie: “Her mother makes her important by making her a constant companion, calling her “sister,” etc., but totally gives her short shrift when it comes to acknowledging Piper as a valued human being….”

No shit? I had no idea she was fucking up that kid too. Did you actually read the book, how could you stand it?

@karen marie: I’m arguing for the Voice of Reason, which is permitted under the California Dramatic License. If Piper’s to have a role at all, it must be as Witness. Everyone else is pursuing an angle.

@SanFranLefty: I think it’s safe to say she’s fucking up all the kids. But I’ve mentioned elsewhere that we should expect some interesting memoirs in ten or twenty years.

@karen marie: @SanFranLefty: Like SFL, I was unaware of this Piper info because I have avoided all mention of The Book. @nojo: I too look forward to the kids’ memoirs. Should make Mommy Dearest look like mother of the year.

@nojo: I hear you about Piper as voice of reason but I think it’s not the kind of reason that scolds overspending on clothes. It’s the humanity, or inhumanity, of Palin’s grasping.

@SanFranLefty: I didn’t read the book but have read lots of stuff about it. My stomach is not strong enough for the kind of abuse required.

And has anyone considered Franklin Graham’s role here?

He’d be great for the zombie part.

@karen marie: I think you’re right there — perhaps I should say Voice of Innocence instead, or just drop the label for now.

There’s a scene in Fight Club — trust me, this is going somewhere — when Ed Norton beats Jared Leto to a pulp. David Fincher will tell you it’s not as violent as it seems — it only feels that way because he cuts to horrified reactions from the crowd.

There’s a similar dynamic at work in comedy, when the zany is played off the conventional, or normal, or authentic. That would be Piper’s role, almost an Alice in Wonderland approach — things around her get curioser and curioser.

@Mistress Cynica: Yeah, poor Piper probably won’t be able to keep her head as she grows up, not if tiaras keep appearing on it. There are so many possible angles at play here, we could probably come up with a trilogy…

@baked: OMG SHATNER AS MCCAIN. You are brilliant!!

@nojo: Or prosecutor. During the nightmare/Talibunny’sAdministration sequences, Piper can dress up in a black robe and white wig and follow Talibunny around and shout indictments and sentences at her.

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