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A CurtainUp Review
Bush is Bad: The Musical Cure for the Blue-State Blues
There is no beating around the Bush (no pun intended) in this occasionally trenchant and tight little revue that skewers the current administration with an emphasis on "the smirking chimp who currently occupies the White House." There is also no respite from the purposefulness and single mindedness of its creator/composer/lyricist Joshua Rosenblum, who impressed many with his vibrant and witty score for Fermat’s Last Tango (see link below) produced by the York Theater Company in 2000. He certainly leaves no doubt as to where his political feelings and alliances are as he gleefully and meaningfully skewers "the liars and scum" in the federal government.
Yes, those are harsh words, but perhaps they are not harsh enough for some of the presumably progressive audiences that have kept the revue going since September 29, 2005. Republicans should be duly forewarned that Rosenblum’s agenda is clearly laid out in 21 corrosively comical songs, all of which denounce just about everything this administration stands for.
Preaching to the choir may be in part therapeutic, and in the case of Bush is Bad, even empowering. However, there is also a predictable aspect to Rosenblum’s parodic punches. The format is simple, almost simplistic in its presentation. A pianist (David Wolfson played with gusto at the performance I attended, taking over for regular accompanist Rosenblum, who had the night off) shares the stage with Kate Baldwin, Neal Mayer, Tom Treadwell. These three personable entertainers perform solo or as an ensemble with the prescribed energy and enthusiasm devised by director/choreographer Gary Slavin.
If our willingness to be surprised, shocked and awed is too rarely rewarded, it is due more to the fact that the administration's embarrassing faux pas and grievous failures are already old news. The performers are gifted and excellent singers but are not particularly at their best in creating caricatures like those deployed in revues like Forbidden Broadway. Neither are the skits as sophisticated in their political observations as seen in the various editions of Capitol Steps. Ensemble numbers are the best and reach a peak with "Scooter Libby Superstar," in which the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber gets infused into a mock mini-operetta.
Rosenblum’s gift for the melodic is notable as in the revue’s spirited opening number, "How Can 59 Million People Be So Dumb," that cannily prepares us for the mixture of verve and vitriol that follows. The fact that most musical comedies these days cannot boast that even half of their songs are really memorable makes the five or six songs that are excellent in Bush is Bad something to shout about. One of my favorites is "Das Busch Ist Schlect (Bad)," a really hilarious parody of German lieder in which you-know-who, Rumsfeld and Cheney, becomes the recipients of baritone Treadwell’s guttural, phlegm-producing German vocals. You don’t need to know German to get the message. Drag is not beyond Treadwell’s scope, and he gets points for his clownish impersonation of Barbara Bush giving an "Ethics Class."
Such issues as deficits in the trillions, the legalization of hand-guns, the funding of the arts, are woven through numbers like "Good Conservative Values" (in two parts), as being gay is in "I May Be Gay (But I’m No Lesbian"). "Mom is pissed" admits a defensive Mary Cheney (Baldwin), who cannot quite get the L word out. The debates are amusingly remembered as Bush is wired with a super large transmitter that is secured beneath his shoulder pad so he can hear Karl Rove. "I’m losing you Karl," says Bush as Rove’s prompting gets lost in static.
No political parody would be complete without homage to Kurt Weill. Baldwin perfectly captures the essence of Lotte Lenya and the futile despair of Laura Bush, as she bewails her marriage to "the borderline illiterate" in "Sure, You Betcha, George." But it takes the actual words of GWB to push the audience into unrestrained laughter: "the past is over . . . Is our kids learning?. . . If we don’t succeed, we risk failure. . . It’s time to restore chaos and order. . . When we talk of war, we are really talking about peace. . . Put food on your family. . . Make the pie higher." Quotes like these are reason enough for an atheist to say, "God help us."
Editor's Note: Bush bashing is likely to be part of the Off-Broadway scene at least through the end of the Bush administration. Another show milking its discontent with the Bush administration, Bush Wars< was reviewed just last week. Brian Dykstra's Clean Alternatives, a toxic comedy, is coming up shortly. To read a review of the above mentioned Fermat's Tango go here.
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