From a purely financial point of view, the idea to stage a musical about the life and times of Karol Wojtyla is spot on. I know from experience how hard it can be to get bums on seats, but if you’ve got a big concept that everyone feels connected to, half your job is already done. So in 2017, we will have Karol, about the life and times of Pope John II. It will be a hit because there’s a huge section of society who need to venerate evil creatures.
Stay with me, I can back this up – every famous musical is based on something wicked, one of them is even called Wicked, but we’ll start with Cats, a hit because people like my friend Agata Rakotny goes weak at the knees whenever her feline friend rolls over and shows her his testicles. Agata, like millions of other deluded cat-lovers, ignores the inconvenient truth that all cats are evil. They originate from the sperm of Cthulhu and secretly want to feast on your retinas.
Similarly, thousands will flock to Karol, ignoring their idol’s stance on pedophile priests and his villainous role in increasing the spread of AIDS in Africa. Who knows, they may even go weak at the knees if by some chance, the principal actor Jacek Kawalek rolls over and gives us a glimpse of his left ball?
The Phantom of the Opera is another fine example of how a malign, domineering character can worm his way into the affections of a docile audience. The ghoulish, murdering, antihero of Gaston Leroux’s novel makes himself known through letters and malevolent acts, and in Lloyd Webber’s musical, he shows compassion when he receives a kiss.
While we’ll never know if he ever received a kiss from a woman, Wojtyla-as-Phantom would not only make more sense to people like me, but it would show both sides of a noble but often cruel man. When one thinks of the Phantom killing his enemies with his terrible Punjab Lasso, you can’t help remembering God’s Banker Roberto Calvi, hanging dead from Blackfriar’s Bridge two weeks after he sent a warning letter to the Pope – what a curtain to Act 2 that would be, but I understand the producers of Karol have something else in mind, probably Wojtyla paragliding into the Kremlin and throwing Chernenko into a bath of acid.
Because he was a hero, wasn’t he? He brought down Communism and promoted the church and as an amateur goalkeeper he saved the occasional penalty kick. Oh, ho, ho, ho, the Pope was a goalkeeper! Lots of room for comedic interludes to be sure, but again the producers of Karol have chosen not to take this route. Probably because the idea of doing a musical-comedy based on a demagogic figure has been done already in the musical-within-a-musical, ‘Springtime For Hitler’ from Mel Brooks’ The Producers, which aims to show “the Hitler you loved, the Hitler you knew, the Hitler with a song in his heart”.
If only Mel Brooks were directing Karol, then we might see a Busby Berkeley style opening number where the Pope stands in front of dozens of African children (Polish kids from Bytom done up in blackface) singing “I asked for water, you gave me the Atlantic, I asked for stones, you gave me diamonds” and they respond “we asked for Durex, you gave us the Human Immune Virus and left us orphaned and impoverished our third-world problems exacerbated.” This could be followed by a sweaty, shirtless tango with Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva as those other luminaries in Wojtyla’s life – Marcial Maciel and Bishop Paul Marcinkus, drop their pants and celebrate the Polish pontiff with a golden shower.*
But regardless how his life is regurgitated at us, the theatrical director in me wishes the cast and crew of the production the best of luck and I’m sure Karol himself would be thrilled at the prospect of the many, many gay men connected with the show being paid an honest wage off of his back.
*If the producers of Karol use this idea, I want to be paid my own weight in Belgian Beer every day for the entire duration of the run.