A chapter from Iowa history comes alive on stage this week, though the production at Iowa Central Community College in Fort Dodge is a comedy. Director Larry Mitchell says it’s a musical based on a legendary hoax, a production titled “Cardiff.” Mitchell says the Cardiff Giant was the greatest hoax perpetrated on the American people in the 19th century, and may be the greatest of all time.
Mitchell says the perpetrator bought a block of Iowa gypsum, a soft stone that he had carved into the figure of a giant man. He hauled it back to New York, buried it in a relative’s back yard, and arranged for the figure to be dug up a year later. At that time there was a lot of controversy between science and theology, and people quickly took sides — theologians declaring it was a biblical giant, and the scientists of the time arguing that it was a prehistoric bring like a Cro-Magnon man.
Mitchell says just the facts of the case make a great story, especially when the “greatest showman of all time” got involved. P.T. Barnum saw the chance to make money with it and offered to rent the figure for his circus. When they refused, he had his own made, and was sued by George Hull, the owner of the Cardiff Giant. The judge, of course, threw it out, because it involved nothing but a hoax, and “a hoax of the hoax.” He says if it weren’t a true story, you’d never believe it.
The numbers for the show are taken from music written by Fort Dodge veteran composer and director Carl King. King wrote for fifty years and though he’s known for marches, Mitchell says they adapted only a few of them among the 16 songs in the show. He also wrote other kinds of music, says Mitchell, including “a lot of wonderful fun ragtime,” they found one great novelty song for the sculptors working on the giant, and some waltzes the director describes as “just lovely things.” A local author wrote the show, and the lyrics for the music.
Comedia Musica Players of Central Iowa will perform the musical this Thursday through Sunday at the school’s auditorium.
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