By: Nicole Itkin

Can politics surprise us? 

That’s what the 1968 musical How to Steal an Election asks. The musical was revived as part of the York Theater’s “Musicals in Mufti” series, a series with the bold mission of giving old musicals a new spotlight. 

How to Steal An Election is a romp through the history of the Republican National Convention, spinning through about a century of presidential elections– up to the (then modern day) 1968 Nixon election. Former President Calvin Coolidge (Jason Graae) and his aides (Courtney Arango, Kelly Berman, Drew Tanabe) guide us along the way, showing us in the audience– and two young voters (Emma Degerstedt as April and Alex Joseph Grayson as Jerry)— exactly how each candidate got elected.

Coolidge and his aides walk us through different campaigns over the years, pushing open the door for us to sit in at strategizing meetings. The aides’ impressions of the presidential candidates are a highlight, with deft transitions between candidates giving us a first-hand account of what happened behind closed doors. They made commercials that lead to: “[Americans] giving Van Buren the raspberry day and night…in prime time.” They made slogans like “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” (catchy!), and what do you know: Harrison wins handily. Lies? Maybe. But they’re fun! They catch on!

However, the young voters point out, not everyone is tricking the American public! There are good guys!

Sure… but they probably haven’t become president. Money, slogans, deals, and blackmail– necessary to become president, no? There’s not a question in Coolidge’s mind.  

Well, fine. I’ll ask a different question: Why Coolidge? Why is Coolidge guiding us? And why is he depicted as the “1968 candidate?” A reference to the way political figures merely stand in for one another: Nixon or Coolidge, it’s indistinguishable? 

Well, why is Coolidge… not Coolidge? The former president’s monikers are silent Cal, uncharismatic Cal– our Cal is the opposite. He laughs and he dances, shakes hands with audience members and prances. Oh, Graae is great at it! But it makes me wonder. 

Questions aside, the show is fun. The script’s funny, with a plethora of quick one-liners, and laughs throughout the evening. Coolidge quips:  “if you don’t say anything, you won’t be called on to repeat it!”

The songs are wonderful, and everyone on stage is a powerhouse. Degerstedt and Grayson have the range and chemistry that made an audience member point out, as they left the theater: “They’d be great in Chicago!” Arango, Berman, and Tanabe, in the ensemble, were always fabulous, singing and dancing their hearts out as a plethora of different presidents. Every song concluded with applause, and more than one with an audience member near me whispering “Wow.”

Yes, the show felt a little heavy-handed, and a little dated. But it’s a great effort, and for a great cause. 

The Mufti Series. What a mission! Bringing old musicals back from the dead. That’s fun to see, to compare the world we live in to the world that existed not so long ago. So why not? Go see the show! 


How To Steal An Election; Book by William F. Brown; Music and Lyrics by Oscar Brand; Directed by Joseph Hayward


Jason Graae as Calvin Coolidge, Emma Degerstedt as April, Alex Joseph Grayson as Jerry, Courtney Arango, Kelly Berman, Drew Tanabe as Ensemble

Neal Mayer as Calvin Coolidge Standby (Performing 8/30 and 8/31)

Music Director Miles Plant, Choreography by Victoria Casillo, Lighting design by Ken Billington, projection/sound design Peter Brucker

The York Theatre Company (James Morgan, Producing Artistic Director; Marie Grace LaFerrara, Executive Director) is celebrating the return of the “Musicals in Mufti” series after an absence of four years!

Through through September 3, 2023.

The show has an 80 minute runtime. Tickets are on sale here.