A new musical.
Book and Lyrics: Richard Byrne
Music: Dean Schlabowske
Congressman Davy is a new musical I have written with Dean Schlabowske.
It’s also a true story. Legendary frontiersman Davy Crockett was a U.S. Representative from Tennessee for three terms.
Crockett’s final term in office was at the zenith of Democratic President Andrew Jackson’s tumultuous presidency. Jackson’s great rivals, the Whig Party, saw Crockett as a new Jackson that they could use to win the presidency in 1836 – and sponsored his speaking tour of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast states in 1835.
But Crockett lost his own seat in Congress before he could run for president. Whig ardor cooled. And according to one account from 1836, Crockett told an audience: “In my last canvass, I told the people of my District, that, if they saw fit to re-elect me, I would serve them as faithful as I had done; but, if not, they might go to hell and I would go to Texas. I was beaten, gentlemen, and here I am.”
We all know how that journey ended up.
Yet while Crockett is at the center of Congressman Davy, the musical is also a Washington, DC story at its heart. You’ll get to know Anne Royall -- America's first woman newspaper editor and publisher -- and meet a vast cross-section of a burgeoning new capital of the United States: hotel proprietors and boarding house keepers, politicians and wheeler-dealers of various stripes, a singing bear, and even an inexperienced young editor named Edgar Allan Poe.
In the new musical's 22 alt-country/hard folk songs written by Byrne and Schlabowske, and a book by Byrne, Congressman Davy explores both the enduring verities of American governance and the pervasive power of celebrity in our politics.
In a recent feature in Washington City Paper, Chris Klimek observed:
It’ll likely be decades before anyone who writes a musical set in the political world of the early United States doesn’t get asked about Hamilton, but D.C. playwright Richard Byrne says the germ of his new musical Congressman Davy came to him in 2014, the year before Hamilton opened.
He was revisiting the Walt Disney Davy Crockett TV series of the mid-1950s—a show he’d adored as a kid when he’d caught it in reruns in the ’70s—and it struck him that Fess Parker, the actor in the coonskin cap, had a style of speaking remarkably similar to that of another self-styled pretend frontiersman, then-President George W. Bush. The uncanny vocal resemblance “put me in mind of Crockett not as a frontiersman, but as a politician,” Byrne explains.
Researching the “Washington City” of the 1820s and ’30s—when it was still being rebuilt after an occupying British Army burned it in 1814—Byrne found a fertile storytelling environment. “I wanted to put him in that milieu of the [long-defunct political party] Whigs casting about for their own Andrew Jackson.” Crockett had a flamboyant personal style to match that of Jackson, who was elected president two years after Crockett won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee, where he would serve four terms, losing his reelection for a fifth about a year before his death at the Alamo.
Seeking a partner to write music to accompany his lyrics, Byrne remembered his old pal Dean “Ramblin’ Deano” Schlabowske, who was playing in the rowdy Chicago-based alt-country outfit The Waco Brothers. “He’s just steeped in the American folk and country genres in a way that he can just summon up stuff that really works and that is I think sufficiently varied,” Byrne says. (Byrne previously collaborated with another Waco Brother, punk legend Jon Langford, on Nero/Pseudo, a glam-rock musical staged in D.C. in 2015.)