Let’s make A Theory of Justice the musical.” “You know what, that would be a fantastic revision method!” It was with flippant comments like these, made during the run-up to PPE prelims, that A Theory of Justice: The Musical was born. A similar process gave Oxford The Aeneid: The Musical in 2007. Evidently, examinations are good for the creative spirit.
About a year later the writers, Eylon Aslan-Levy, Tommy Peto and Ramin Sabi, the last poised over a piano, sat down again. “We started bouncing back a couple of ideas for the plot, humming a couple of tunes, and then we realised that we had a cracking Broadway classic on our hands,” said Aslan-Levy.
The musical will see John Rawls, the twentieth century American philosopher, travel through time to draw inspiration for his magnum opus. He talks, or rather sings and dances, with a selection of other philosophers. All
the while Rawls tries to get the girl, Fairness, and defeat the villain, Robert Nozick, another twentieth century American philosopher.
The mention of a girl and a villain might make you think this will be like every other musical you have ever seen. That’s because it pretty much is. “The relationships are very much based on traditional Broadway, Disney-style musicals…we satirise all of those tropes,” Sabi explained. “It’s almost, but not quite, a parody of Broadway musicals,” said Peto.
“We’re also mocking the time travel genre,” Sabi said. He talked of “some inexplicable reason” why Rawls was able—and willing—to travel back through time. “But Ramin, it is explained! There’s a time vortex!” cried Aslan-Levy. In actual fact there’s an explanatory song too (demonstrated during this interview). Sabi had clearly missed one of the writing sessions. The show is not primarily an exposition of political philosophy. In fact, the closest they
come to this is in taking the mick out of Rawls’ famously tedious style of writing. Although we don’t all share the toils of being a PPE student, this is surely one philosophy in-joke that every student here will appreciate.
Not that Aslan-Levy, Peto and Sabi have written the musical with merely an Oxford audience in mind: they insist that “it would work just as well staged here or on the other side of the globe.”
As for the songs, there are “show tunes, Disney-style”, a cabaret-esque song, a rock anthem, and a barbershop quartet. Hobbes and Locke get a duet – “We knew from very early on we wanted them to have a rap battle,” Aslan-Levy explained. “Immanuel Kant has a Mariah Carey-type power ballad,” he continued. Kant will also be in drag, for which, alone, it might be worth seeing the show.
A Theory of Justice: The Musical will run in 3rd week, Wednesday to Saturday, at the Keble O’Reilly.