|Basis||Doonesbury series of comic strips by playwright|
Based on Trudeau's comic strip of the same name, it focuses on that point in its history when the primary characters graduate from college and enter the workforce after more than a decade of being perpetual students and commune-dwellers.
Trudeau took a nearly two-year sabbatical from writing the strip to develop the project.
After twenty previews, the Broadway production, directed by Jacques Levy and choreographed by Margo Sappington, opened on November 21, 1983 at the Biltmore Theatre, where it ran for 104 performances. The cast included Mark Linn-Baker as Mark Slackmeyer, Keith Szarabajka as B.D., Gary Beach as Uncle Duke, Lauren Tom as Honey Huan, Kate Burton as J.J. Caucus, Barbara Andres as Joanie Caucus, Reathal Bean as Roland Headley, Ralph Bruneau as Mike Doonesbury, Albert Macklin as Zonker and Laura Dean as Boopsie.
- Act I
The musical's storyline opened the day before graduation at Walden College, with many of the characters (Mike Doonesbury, B.D., Mark Slackmeyer, Zonker Harris, Boopsie) preparing for the day. B.D. has been drafted into professional football (later revealed to be the Dallas Cowboys), Mike is preparing to propose to J.J., and Zonker has a flashback to his days as a pro suntanner. Meanwhile, Zonker's uncle Duke and his aide/henchman Honey are at Duke's federal trial for cocaine possession in Los Angeles County, California. Acting as his own counsel, an apparently stoned Duke gives an impassioned defense in which he claims that his efforts to deal cocaine to undercover FBI agents in a STING operation was only indicative of his "caring too much."
The action returns to Walden, where Mike is on the phone with J.J., upset that Mike has invited her mother, Joanie, who arrives with her infant son from her second marriage, Jeffrey. Boopsie and the cast discuss her plans to become a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, intending on following B.D. to Dallas. Mark reveals Mike's plan to propose to J.J. to Zonker and Joanie.
Back at the courthouse, Duke is found guilty and sentenced to probation, and required by the court to open and manage a drug rehabilitation center for the next five years. Then back at Walden, J.J. arrives, only to discover that Mike has planned out their weekend down to the very minute. Joanie returns from grocery shopping, and Mike attempts to mediate the tension between mother and daughter. This fails, and J.J. storms out. Meanwhile, at the campus radio station, Mark is interviewing Roland Hedley, and the two campaign on the air to get Mark a job after graduation.
Back at Walden Commune, Mike is preparing dinner while Boopsie is exercising, Joanie is nursing Jeffrey, Zonker is building a beer-can pyramid, and B.D. is ranting about all of them. Mark returns from the radio station, and J.J. offers to help Mike with dinner. When the meal is served, the cast mocks Mike's cooking. As dinner concludes, Zonker attempts to renew the lease on the commune, but is turned down; someone else has already laid claim to the building. As Act One ends, it's discovered that Duke and Honey are having them evicted after graduation for his court-ordered drug rehabilitation center.
- Act II
The following morning, the residents of Walden awake to find a bulldozer outside the house bulldozing the front yard and adjacent meadow. The cast, including Duke, threatening to force the residents to leave the house or get bulldozed, sing on the theme of whether or not Walden is "just a house." Joanie intervenes, telling Duke that her clients (the residents of Walden) will be seeking an injunction against his redevelopment of the house without rezoning permits, and threatens Duke with harassment charges. Duke exits, but soon resumes bulldozing. Mike leaves with Joanie to attempt legal action against Duke.
Boopsie and B.D. have a discussion about B.D.'s feelings, which is broken off when B.D. receives a message from Sid Kibbitz, his agent. B.D. is being traded to Tampa Bay from Dallas. B.D. leaves, Honey enters, and Honey and Boopsie sing about the complicated men in their lives (Duke and B.D., respectively). Outside, Zonker attempts to confront Duke, who lets his nephew in on his plan to use the "drug rehab facility" as a front to turn the land Walden sits on into a multimillion-dollar condo venture. The gullible Zonker agrees to help his uncle with the plan.
Mike and Joanie return to Walden, where J.J. has been taking care of Jeffrey. Mike runs off to get dressed for graduation, and Joanie and J.J. attempt reconciliation. Roland arrives with a crew to interview the new graduates, and informs Mark of a potential job offer at a radio station on Long Island, New York. Roland also discusses B.D.'s trade to Tampa Bay, both sing in praise of President Reagan's domestic policies, and introduce "Muffy and the Topsiders", a band made up of preppies (Boopsie, Mike, Mark and Zonker in different costumes).
Zonker reveals Duke's plan for condos to Mike and Mark, as Duke—his plans crushed after Joanie successfully obtains an injunction against him—succumbs to a massive amount of hallucinogens and crashes his bulldozer into their living room. Mike blurts out his proposal to J.J., who accepts.
At graduation, Mike and J.J. reveal their plans to Zonker to go off and be married, and Mark reveals his plans to go to New York, leaving Zonker as the only remaining resident of Walden. Roland covers the ceremony, in which full names of several of the characters are revealed.
Awards and nominations
- Theatre World Award (Dean, winner)
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Book (nominee)
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Lyrics (nominee)
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical (Dean, nominee)
- Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Director of a Musical (nominee)
The musical received mixed reviews. Frank Rich of The New York Times wrote, "'Doonesbury' is a pleasant show. The surprise is that it's dull. A few bright interludes notwithstanding, this musical never catches fire. Some of the shortfall can be traced to conventional failings of craft in Mr. Trudeau's book and a weak score by Elizabeth Swados."
The Chicago Reader called the musical "pathetically tame and straight-faced. There is no point of view to the show, no commentary, no insight. There are just some very conventional songs and a series of subplots that do nothing but put the personalities from the comic strip on parade. In fact, the musical transforms those wonderful tools of expression into mere cartoon characters, as though their foibles and idiosyncrasies are what the comic strip is all about. The whole project resembles a franchise arrangement, the kind that permits Bert and Ernie and Cookie Monster and Big Bird to be plastered all over lunch boxes and sweatshirts."
- Doonesbury: A Musical Comedy by Garry Trudeau, published by Holt, Rinehart and Winston (1984) ISBN 0-517-05491-4