As much as anyone who’s ever listened to Chess: In Concert at the Royal Albert Hall, I’m willing to forgive a lot if Adam Pascal pulls out a high belt, which is exactly what he does in the fake musical about the Avengers that takes place in Disney+’s Hawkeye. Throwing a Broadway performance into any TV series is a delightful idea I support unconditionally, and it was pretty fun to see a tease of the fictional Rogers: The Musical’s Battle of New York number in the Hawkeye pilot. But now that the show has circled back to the musical in the finale and offered us TV viewers a glimpse of the more complete number in a post-credits sequence, I feel like we need to address that it is somewhat incomprehensible dramaturgically.
Here’s what we get from Rogers: The Musical in the pilot: When Clint Barton sees the production with his family at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (guess Tina: The Musical is not running in the MCU; justice for Adrienne Warren!), he watches a number in which a crowd of New Yorkers call for the Avengers to help them. The ensemble shouts things like, “Avengers unite ‘cause we’ve got to hear you say” while Captain America interjects, “I could do this all dayyyyy.” Hawkeye himself is disappointed in the production, and points out that it includes Ant-Man, who wasn’t at the Battle of New York in the first place. Clint zones out from what appears to a combination of PTSD and frustration with the idea of musical theater in the first place, then heads off to the bathroom. Reasonable dad-like behavior.
Then, in the Hawkeye finale, we get the number in its full splendor. Here, the details prove puzzling: There’s a recurring theme where Adam Pascal’s “Lead New Yorker #1” and his fellow ensemble members sing about the concept of trash, with lines like “the rent and garbage are both sky-high” and “yes the city is on the brink / and yes it may smell but we like that stink” and “if the city’s trashed when you take your bow / we’ll blame you then, but you’re good for now.” There’s also a staggering cast of characters in the show, with a full suite of Avengers and an appearance from Loki. Plus, you can appreciate the rising set of fairly niche references contained in the Avengers’ exchange of “I’ve got to get the Tesseract”, “The battle’s just begun”, “We’ll conquer the Chitauri”, “Then get shawarma when we’re done.”
As a standalone song within the universe of Hawkeye, this is all a cute bit. But you have to wonder how on earth the rest of the Rogers musical is supposed to work. This is a song that doesn’t suggest any forward motion of plot: At one point they sing about how Iron Man is going to fly into the sky to deflect a nuke, which means the musical doesn’t actually depict that as action. So the audience is watching a song describing a fight that preemptively tells you who’s going to win that fight: Not that exciting! Also, if this is a musical about Steve Rogers, how come the New Yorkers get most of the lyrics? Is the Adam Pascal role just a heavily featured solo for the Rogers ensemble, the Star-to-Be of superhero-based fictional stage musicals? Or does he come back as a recurring narrator and voice of the masses, the Che to Rogers’ Evita?
More pressingly, what happens in the rest of this musical? Songwriters and Smash survivors Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman did a fun little interview with Empire where they said that they imagined this song, titled “Save the City,” as the act-one finale of the Rogers musical, with the first act starting off with Steve getting injected with his serum back in the 1940s. That’s a bold amount of material to cover in one act, but hey, Wicked manages to switch from “making friends in college” to “guerrilla warfare” in the space of “Defying Gravity,” so it’s possible. I do wonder what the second act gets into, though. Does it shift into Rogers’s mixed feelings about superhero-dom, concluding with the events of Civil War, or somehow manage to get all the way to the present? Is there a song where Rogers, post-snap, is like, “hey being gay is okay because we’re all sad now”? Does it end with a melancholy reprise of “Save the City” where Rogers hangs up his shield and mutters, “I can’t do this all day”?
Perhaps you just can’t fit that much superhero stuff into a musical anyway. If Rogers: The Musical has a real-world equivalent, it is, of course, the ill-fated Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, in which Julie Taymor tried to wrestle superhero spectacle into what was sort of a grand Greek fable. Back in its infamous 1.0 version (before Taymor was let go and Marvel brought in Riverdale’s own Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa to tidy the script), that show devolved into what our critic at the time Scott Brown called “mostly watchable chaos” (please go watch the number where Arachne the Spider-Goddess sings about shoes). Now, Rogers appears to be a lot more conventional than that, but its existence does make one wonder if anyone tried to pull off something like Turn Off the Dark in the MCU — so much so that I’m convinced the Rogers director is trying for a safe, commercial bet in reaction to some other superhero musical flopping. Did Julie Taymor direct Lion King and then move onto some sort of Tom Holland-y version of the show? Or, since this universe’s Spider-Man is a real person who didn’t emerge into the forefront of national attention until later on, did she direct something based around a different hero? Frankly, what is Julie Taymor up to in general in the MCU? Marvel, these are the questions I demand you answer in Hawkeye season two.