Fragments from 'Rupert! The Musical'

From time to time the news cycle offers up an event of such import and complexity that it can only be comprehended through the medium of musical theater. This week resident composer Ben Greenman examines the inner life of Rupert Murdoch, media mogul.

[The stage is dark, and then it is light. A number of attractive young women dressed as NEWSPAPER BOXES roller skate across the stage from left to right. They are wearing black leggings and they are singing, almost too soft to hear.]

NEWSPAPER BOXES

The long climb up from way Down Under

How did it happen? Sometimes I wonder.

[The stage goes dark. When the lights return, there is a man standing onstage, his face covered by a newspaper. He lowers that newspaper to reveal that he is RUPERT MURDOCH. He begins to sing.]



RUPERT MURDOCH

To give a full account of my ascent into glory

I'll have to take a moment to recount a tragic story.

Do you know about Max Stuart?

I don't really see why you would

But unless I tell you about him

I don't think I can be understood.

This was fifty years ago

In South Australia, near Ceduna

Families were playing on

The beaches in the afternoon. A

Girl of nine went near the water—

Girls of nine will do that.

The parents could not find their daughter.

Her body was found with her face smashed flat.

Max Stuart was a carny.

He was traveling through town.

Suspicion fell upon him.

The law rose up to bring him down.

At the time I ran a newspaper

The News in Adelaide

We took up Stuart's innocence

As a passionate crusade

With journalistic pressure

We averted Stuart's hanging

I felt a surge of pride

We got results with our haranguing

[NEWSPAPER BOXES return to the stage. This time they move from right to left, stopping center-stage to twirl around slowly.]

NEWSPAPER BOXES

It is every newsman's dream.

To bring real change to the regime.

RUPERT MURDOCH

You're right, I guess.

At first, well, yes.

NEWSPAPER BOXES

What do you mean? Did something go wrong?

We sense that the answer is in your next song.

RUPERT MURDOCH

Stuart did not hang

He was sentenced to life

(Eventually he earned parole,

Began to paint and took a wife).

But my part in the trial

Wasn't taken in stride

The government and I

Were fated to collide

I was called on the carpet

By Playford, the premier

Stuart was guilty, he insisted

And I had interfered.

To avoid a charge of sedition

I would have to sacrifice

My best friend at the newspaper.

I bit my lip and paid the price.

Since then I have grasped

The meaning of true power

Without it, you are eaten

With it, you devour

A lesser man might have backed off

And withdrawn into contemplation

A great man such as I set out

To dominate the nation

[NEWSPAPER BOXES return to the stage. They are crossing left to right again, but now they are wearing short skirts.]

NEWSPAPER BOXES

Did he fail? We tend to doubt it.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it.

RUPERT MURDOCH

My riches went up like an Australian pine

And soon the Antipodes were mine, all mine.

In sixty-eight, I went to Britain

In seventy-six, to the States

My need for expansion has proven

The most durable of my traits

I have the Post. I have Fox.

I have Sky TV and Star TV

I have the Times in London

I have MySpace and TGRT

My total combined holdings

Are far too vast to measure

And still, acquiring more things

Brings me a powerful pleasure

I think that I need to consider

Another major acquisition

What property can I snap up

That will advance my mission?

[NEWSPAPER BOXES return to the stage. Now they are wearing only brassieres and underwear.]

NEWSPAPER BOXES

What now? What now?

RUPERT MURDOCH

How 'bout the Dow?

NEWSPAPER BOXES

The Dow? Oh, wow!

RUPERT MURDOCH

That's right. And how.

[The lights go out suddenly. When they come back up, RUPERT MURDOCH is center-stage, bathed in a white light.]

RUPERT MURDOCH

How much for this?

How much for that?

I'll buy it all

In no time flat.

Ten thousand for that peanut!

A million for that stick!

I want it! I want it!

Not getting it will make me sick!

[NEWSPAPER BOXES return to the stage. Now they are topless.]

NEWSPAPER BOXES

Getting things is what makes him tick.

Not getting things just makes him sick.

RUPERT MURDOCH

I know that I've made enemies

But am I that infernal

Just because I want to

Own the Wall Street Journal?

The price I'm offering

Is far more than fair

It works out in the end to over

Sixty bucks a share

[NEWSPAPER BOXES return to the stage. Now they are nude but mute—when they open their mouths to sing, no sound comes out.]

RUPERT MURDOCH

Hey, newspaper girls

I won't feel better

Until I've written a letter

So please, no more twirls.

[RUPERT MURDOCH starts to dictate a letter. As he speaks, the newspaper boxes open and papers printed with his words begin to fly out.]

RUPERT MURDOCH

"They say that I am evil

They say that I'm right-wing

They say that I am ruthless

These words have lost their sting.

"They say that I am trying

To consolidate my wealth

But I have found that buying

Things contributes to my health

"Soon I will own Dow Jones

And after that, who knows?

Maybe the planet Neptune

Or a zoo of CEOs.

"It's hard to know just what to buy

When you have this much cash

It gets more and more difficult

To do something that makes a splash.

"They say that I'm rapacious

Well, you know, no shit, Sherlock

This letter finds me quite loquacious.

Yours sincerely, Rupert Murdoch"

[RUPERT MURDOCH pulls up his pants legs to reveal that he, too, is wearing roller skates. He skates directly toward the audience; as he reaches the lip of the stage he disappears in a puff of smoke.]

Ben Greenman is an editor at the New Yorker and the author of several books of fiction. His latest book, A Circle is a Balloon and Compass Both, was recently published.

Previously: Fragments From 'Stung! The Musical'