Tupperware Musical Brings Campy Fun and Serious Message
A new musical created here in Chicago tackles some big issues through a surprising medium. The New Colony theater examines the role of women in the age of McCarthyism and the Korean War. It tells the story of a woman whose life is changed by a famous piece of plastic.
The Tupperware musical is showing at LaCosta Theatre on Chicago's Northwest Side through August 9. You can hear more from the son of an early Tupperware dealer here.
Tupperware Changed His Life
ambi of Tupperware
It's a sound you've heard before. It's that little burp of air when you open and close Tupperware. We've grown up with this stuff and never thought much about it.
But The New Colony wants to change all that with this musical. It's called Tupperware: An American Musical Fable.
clip: Plastic Revolution song: Tupperware will take care when you're not there.
Composer Julie Nichols says when the idea was brought to her, she was a little hesitant.
NICHOLS: At first, I was a little bit, this might be too bizarre, people might take this the wrong way, and think I'm coming to see a show about Tupperware, like literally about Tupperware, which is obviously so not what it is.
The musical deals with how Tupperware helped break the taboo against women working outside the home.
It's hard to believe this now, but back then, Tupperware was a mystery. It sat on the shelves because people didn't know how to use it until a woman named Brownie Wise did demonstrations at some of the earliest Tupperware parties. Wise developed the party system across the nation and was the first woman on the cover of Business Week.
Andrew Hobgood, the director and lyricist, learned about her years ago and wanted to create a musical.
HOGBOOD: It was so fascinating to me that this little piece of plastic ended up causing such a huge boom, and it changed the economical options and career choices for women, but doing it in a way that almost allowed them to subversively get into the workplace without it looking like they were going after men's jobs.
The musical is set in a Florida suburb in 1950. The character playing Brownie Wise recruits a grieving Korean War widow by the name of Delores Bird Clarke, who has no idea how to take care of herself.
Wise teaches Delores the sales pitch:
Song: It's Easy to Clean
Now, of course a musical about Tupperware is going to have campy moments. But there's depth too. The musical shows how trapped the housewives feel. They come onstage strapped literally to an ironing board, a dish rack and a bread board.
Just Two Hours Song: I could have been actress…
Yet these same women are threatened by anything different, including Tupperware. They start gossiping, and soon the situation degenerates into a cul-de-sac's version of McCarthyism.
SONG: AGE OF AMERICA!
Lyricist Andrew Hobgood sees parallels to what happened after September 11. He remembers feeling like the government's “if you see something, say something” campaign encouraged Americans to be suspicious of one another.
Another way the musical's relevant, he says, is its message of standing up for yourself.
HOBGOOD: I like the idea of people seeing this story of adversity but realizing that it's somebody, a 1950s housewife, that we typically think of as a fairly meek and controlled being, and to see that type of a person and how she can become powerful.
That's not to say Tupperware itself doesn't play a role here, even the famous burp.
NICHOLS: I found it incredibly rhythmic when I heard a recording of the burp. Boomp-shh. It was inherently rhythmic, and I just lost my mind over it.
Composer Nichols says she had to include a digitized version of the burp. She put out actual Tupperware for the band to bang on -- a 1950s version of the Bucket Boys.
There's also vintage Tupperware in glowing pastels all over the lobby and in the show as props. A lot of it's from the collection of Sam Corcione, the son of a long-time Tupperware lady. He was hesitant at first.
CORCIONE: I didn't want it to be something completely silly. There's a lot of people who think Tupperware's, like (sigh) funny. When I found out they were really making a musical about empowering women, I was completely on board.
Corcione says Tupperware changed his life. His mom got flak, for working outside the home. But her earnings helped buy nice houses and pay for private school. So Corcione's grateful a musical has come along, to balance the campiness of Tupperware with its legacy.
Tupperware lady jingle (from collection of Sam Corcione)
Excerpts from the musical courtesy of The New Colony.