The Show Won’t Go On

Taxpayer-funded global warming musical closes early amid bad reviews

greatimmensity Flickr
September 20, 2014

After a series of lackluster reviews, the traveling global warming musical that was financed by the U.S. taxpayers is ending its run early.

The Great Immensity, a musical described as "painfully long" and "awkward," was made possible by a $697,177 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

"The play, which featured songs and video exploring Americans’ relationships to the environment, opened in New York in April with a three-week run before going on a national tour that was supposed to attract 75,000 patrons," reported. "But it stalled after a single production in Kansas City, falling short of the lofty goals outlined in a grant proposal."

The musical was intended to tour the country in an effort to convince Americans to act on climate change. It ended up attracting meager audiences of theatergoers who were likely already on board with the play’s politics, the Washington Free Beacon found after seeing the play on its opening night in New York City.

The story revolved around a man named Karl, who quits his job on Shark Week because the show did not emphasize climate change enough. He then disappears with a 15-year-old "Earth Ambassador" for the UN, Julie, who convinces Karl to stage a kidnapping of young children during a global climate summit, on the eminently rational assumption that such an event would make the world act on global warming.

Karl abandons his wife Phyllis, who had been franticly searching for him, despite her hopes to start a family. In one of the final scenes, Karl gives Phyllis a jar of his frozen sperm.

The play featured singing and dancing about a carrier pigeon named Margaret, and lyrics about "sea-soaked teddy bears" and the redistribution of wealth. One line said people are "stupid" for not changing their life for global warming. (Enjoy the music here).

Reviews were not good.

"Much like the starving, survivalist polar bears that occupy a considerable amount of story time, though, the production seems to bite off more than it can chew," wrote Entertainment Weekly, which gave the play a C+.

"Unfortunately, much as I'd like tell you that The Great Immensity is indeed immensely entertaining, that's not the case," wrote Curtain Up, an online theater reviewer remarked in an apologetically negative write-up.

The New York Daily News called it an "awkward musical," with songs that "feel shoehorned in and not, pardon the pun, organic." The NY Times gave some praise to the play for its climate change themes, but called the plot "borderline soapy." 

"The narrative through-line — Phyllis’s search for Karl — mostly feels like a flimsy pretext for the show’s lengthy lesson plan," the paper wrote.

None of the reviews mentioned that taxpayers financed the production.

The NSF would not say whether the agency considers the nearly $700,000 given to the Brooklyn theater company "The Civilians," who produced the play, a waste of money.

"This particular project just concluded in August and the final report has not yet been submitted to NSF," the agency said in a statement to "Final reports are due to NSF within 90 days following expiration of the grant. The final report will contain information about project outcomes, impacts and other data."