The Avengers are never far from their past, as fans of Marvel were reminded in the first episode of Disney Plus’ new series Hawkeye. The episode introduces young Kate Bishop (Clara Stack) in 2012, when she witnesses Clint Barton aka Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) heroically fighting off one alien after another during the Battle of New York. Soon afterward, the episode moves to the modern day MCU, where Clint Barton is still reckoning with the Loki’s plot for global domination from nearly a decade ago. He’s forced to consider the events of the Earth-shattering day when attending a performance of Rogers: The Musical.
Although notices outside the theater promise that Rogers “captures the heart of a hero,” the musical appears to be more an ensemble work, introducing all of the Avengers in sing-songy fashion. Hulk like to smash, Iron Man flies, and Captain America “can do this all dayyyyyy,” a call-back to The First Avenger.
Written by Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, who have collaborated on other Broadway musical adaptations like Hairspray and Catch Me If You Can, Rogers is the MCU’s latest attempt to reminisce over past battles with a wink and nod. A little like the scene in Loki where the God of Mischief finds Infinity stones being used as paperweights, the silliness of Rogers asks the audience if they can remember what all the fuss was about.
For the characters within the show, it brings back old trauma. Clint stares blankly at the smiling performers, at the surreal experience of watching a packaged version of yourself. He turns down the sound of his hearing aid, tells his daughter that this wasn’t what it was like, and eventually leaves halfway through the performance, right after seeing some bathroom graffiti that declares “Thanos was right.” It’s hard to see Hawkeye disagreeing with that statement in the moment.
Episode director Rhys Thomas tells Polygon that he came upon the idea for staging the in-world musical adaptation of the Battle of New York when he was “trying to think of things that would annoy Clint.” Once film-score fan and Marvel President Kevin Feige signed off, the next question was what the tone could even be. “You realize, like, oh, we’re making an MCU musical in the MCU. So how good is it? How bad is it? It needs to be absurd. So finding that line, which I feel like is a line that I find myself constantly trying to walk: you’ve got to take it seriously, but just not seriously enough.”
This isn’t Thomas’ first attempt at a parody musical either. One of the creative forces behind the mock Documentary Now! series, he co-directed “Final Transmission,” the show’s loving spoof of the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense.
Shaiman and Wittman told Marvel they wrote their entire song, titled “Save The City,” in the midst of the pandemic. Writing at a time when New York was actually under attack, they wanted to create a song that felt like when “people would go and bang on pots and pans for the hospital workers, first responders. It all seemed to fit into the universe that we were writing to. So, the notion of ‘someone please save New York,’ was the battle cry,” they said.
Rogers: The Musical recruited a number of stage vets to pull off the production, including Adam Pascal and Ty Taylor as “Lead New Yorkers,” Aaron Nedrick (“Musical Iron Man”), Avery Gillham (“Musical Hawkeye”), Harris Turner (“Musical Hulk”), Jason Scott MacDonald (“Musical Thor”), Meghan Manning (“Musical Black Widow”), Nico DeJesus (“Musical Ant-Man”), Tom Feeney (“Musical Captain America”) and Jordan Chin (“Musical Loki”).
But the real secret weapon was Shaiman’s husband, Lou. “It seemed fate that I married a man who was a total Marvel nerd,” he said. “So, I would go with him as a good husband to go watch all the movies, then we would usually sit in the parking lot of the movie theater, and I’d say what did I just see? How does that all work and who’s who, and little by little I started putting all the pieces together. We were both lucky to have [my husband, because] he could just spit out whatever the words are like, you know, ‘Tesseract.’ I never knew that Scott and I would write a song with the word ‘Tesseract’ in it.”
Of course, this isn’t Marvel’s first musical turn either. WandaVision’s “Agatha All Along,” was a delightful viral hit. And not mentioned in Hawkeye is one of the most infamous musicals of all-time: Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark, the most expensive Broadway musical in history. Perhaps if Tom Holland keeps up with the character, he can bring his dancing experience to the screen.