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Captain America, the Broadway musical: inside the real-life '80s stage show homaged in Disney Plus' Hawkeye

Hawkeye
(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

After watching Disney Plus' Hawkeye trailer, fans are coming away wanting to see two things: the Hawkeye TV show, and Rogers: The Musical. That fun little bit further deifies the seemingly-departed original Captain America, but also touches on an actual piece of comics history - or almost history. Because in the mid-'80s Marvel Entertainment tried to launch a Captain America Broadway show, and even went as far as a casting call.

That's right: Marvel's Sentinel of Liberty was almost singing his own showtunes on Broadway. 

If you recall Captain America: The First Avenger, you'll remember Chris Evans-as-Steve-Rogers doing a little song and dance himself, but this is far, far more.

Captain America: The Broadway show

1985 Captain America casting ad (Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Described as "a musical spectacular" in Marvel casting ads at the time, Captain America even got a write-up in the New York Times - which gives us a hint at the story, which is… intriguing.

"The superhero will not, in fact, be particularly super when the curtain goes up. The book by Mel Mandel and Norman Sachs (who are also responsible for music and lyrics) has Captain A. going through a midlife crisis," writes New York Times' Enid Nemy in the April 5, 1985 edition. "Fortunately, the action speeds up - his girlfriend [Sharon Phillips], a candidate for President, is captured by terrorists and held hostage at the Lincoln Memorial."

The villain of the Captain America musical was a cosmetics CEO named Jay Peters, who was secretly funding the aforementioned terrorists.

Although a full song list hasn't been revealed, some of the song titles included 'Fly the Flag,' 'Into the Gym,' 'Nobody Asked Me to Lead a Parade This Year,' 'Both Ways,' 'If I Could Fall In Love,' 'Marvin Mittleman,' and 'The First Presidential.'

The cast of the Captain America Broadway musical

John Cullum as Captain America (Image credit: Marvel Entertainment)

Broadway stage actor John Cullum was cast in the titular role of John Rogers, and Blazing Saddles' leading man Cleavon Little was cast as the villainous cosmetics tycoon Jay Peters. It isn't clear who was cast to play Sharon Phillips, but Linda Lavin and Cloris Leachman were both being pursued for the role at different points.

Both Lavin and Leachman had some comic adaptation bona fides already - Lavin played a Daily Planet secretary in the '70s Broadway play It's A Bird… It's A Plane… It's Superman, and Leachman played Queen Hippolyta in the '70s Wonder Woman show.

"This is essentially a love story about a man who's always been strong, independent - even macho - and a sensitive, assertive, bright, and political woman," Mandel said in a March 27, 1988 The Morning Call article.

Marvel ran casting ads in its comics for a 10 to 14-year-old female actor "who can sing, dance, and act up a storm." The character was later named 'Mister', and the House of Ideas' house ad called her "his very special friend". 

Why the curtain never rose for Captain America's Broadway show

The budget for the Captain America Broadway musical was reported at $4 million at the time, which translates to about $10 million in 2021 dollars. According to the New York Times, Marvel planned to stage the production "out of town" in the fall of 1985 but bring it to Broadway in time for the winter holidays.

That never happened, however. After a  series of one-off performances in the New York area to drum up funds didn't succeed, the Broadway production was put into what film fans well: 'development hell.' Marvel and the producers tried for several years to get the Broadway Captain America off the ground, but by the end of the '80s the project was mothballed. 

In a coincidental turn of events, the Captain America Broadway show with a cosmetics executive as its main villain was killed once Marvel was acquired by an investment group owned by an actual cosmetics executive named Ronald Perelman (of Revlon). Among other things, Perelman wanted to trim Marvel's expenditures ahead of a stock offering - and Captain America's Broadway ambitions were one of those things cut.

Hawkeye

(Image credit: Marvel Studios)

The idea of an '80s musical about Captain America going through a midlife crisis and a woman running for US president in 1985 sounds fascinating, but sadly no one ever got to see the full play. 

But maybe... just maybe... we'll get an extended look at Rogers: The Musical somehow. Fans got the extended Helmut Zemo dance cut, after all.

While we don't have Rogers: The Musical, we do have the best Captain America stories of all time. 

Chris Arrant

Newsarama Senior Editor Chris Arrant has covered comic book news for Newsarama since 2003, and has also written for USA Today, Life, Entertainment Weekly, Publisher's Weekly, Marvel Entertainment, TOKYOPOP, AdHouse Books, Cartoon Brew, Bleeding Cool, Comic Shop News, and CBR. He is the author of the book Modern: Masters Cliff Chiang, co-authored Art of Spider-Man Classic, and contributed to Dark Horse/Bedside Press' anthology Pros and (Comic) Cons. He has acted as a judge for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Harvey Awards, and the Stan Lee Awards. Chris is a member of the American Library Association's Graphic Novel & Comics Round Table.