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A CurtainUp Review
Clinton The Musical
Now that really should make no difference to anyone who is not expecting to revisit the same, or see something close to the same show. Despite a program handed to us that shows that the musical is in two acts, it was performed without an intermission and with the new song list inserted. The only thing that matters is that the Australian-born (now living in London) collaborators Paul Hodge (book/music/lyrics) and Michael Hodge (book) have kept their fiercely funny and taut grip on William Jefferson Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton. It also remains a spirited romp under the direction of Dan Knechtges. This farcical assessment of their tumultuous eight years in the White House contains everything you really need to know about their serious intentions as well as their incredulous shenanigans.
The old adage that there are two sides to every story appears to have provided the Hodge boys the license and the liberty to see the president as two distinct personalities; and for his wife to serve as the impassioned, but constantly irritated mediator between the two. WJ Clinton, as personably portrayed by Tom Galantich, is the well-dressed, straight-laced, dedicated servant of the people. Billy, as portrayed by Duke Lafoon with twinkling eyes prepped for a wicked wink, can't help heckling his alter ego, noticing a passing skirt or picking up his saxophone whenever WJ's speechifying gets dull. Too bad there is no song, "Hail to the Schizophrenic Chief," but there is a doozy for the three "The Me I See" that makes clear their respective perspectives as well as the unbreakable bond between them.
United by love, family and politics, Hillary (a very blonde and breezily vivacious Kerry Butler) and WJ frame an alliance knowing that they can't ever get rid of that incorrigible, grand-standing, disarming liar Billy. So the trio puts on quite a show for the public, call it a steadfast front, when attacked by the avidly right wing Republican conspirators — led by pudgy, white haired and addled Newt Gingrich, who wants nothing else but to bring America back to the days when everyone was "Christian, straight and white." He is portrayed with a waddle, a quack and an occasional falsetto squeal by the comically expressive John Treacy Egan.
Gingrich's aggressive mission to undercut Clinton's progressive policies is also an excuse for his bizarre relationship with a sneakily solicitous Kenneth Starr (a terrific Kevin Zak), the investigator who envisions himself as a male dominatrix. It made no sense to me (I may have missed a newspaper headline or two at the time) but. . . you'll get a kick out of "Say Nay," a show-stopping musical number in which a chains and whip-wielding Starr (presumably a graduate of the S& M school of politics) forges an alliance with the easily seduced Gingrich.
Let's face it, this is a show about seduction and it really gets hot and percolates when the adorable and adoring Monica Lewinsky (Veronica J. Kuehn) sashays through the halls in that "dress" (that you will recognize). She sings a real laugh-getter "Monica's Song" that is as blunt as it is site-and-sensory specific. In it, is her oft repeated mantra, "I'm F****** the F****** President." Monica's testimony under oath is also highlighted by her tap dancing (quite good indeed) around the questions regarding her alleged affair with the president.
The new song, "That Woman Miss Lewinsky," is quite brief and sung by Bill with the repeated phrase "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." To which Hillary responds, "Great statement darling! Doesn't it feel so good that people know the truth?
Kudos to designer David Woolard for Monica's wrap-around dress but also for Hillary's blue pants suit, a reminder of the first lady's flair for functional haute couture. I also liked that Billy never wears a jacket and that his tie is loosened casually on his neck. Of course, WT is a fashion plate out of GQ.
Impressive are how many of the trials and tribulations endured by the Clintons during their eight years (are there more in store?) are interpolated into this whirlwind of history and histrionics. With its lively and listenable fourteen-song score by Paul Dodge, Clinton The Musical favors lyrics that tend toward the insinuating.
While the book keeps its principal characters hopping from one critical issue to the next, with brief references to Linda Tripp and Paula Jones along the way, it finds time to dally with Whitewater, the 1994 midterm upset and the 1995-1996 government shutdown. All this while Al Gore looks on aghast as a stand-up cardboard cutout.
While WJ and Bill seem perfectly at home and appear at ease in their roles as lovable and laughable caricatures, there are, however, traces of Hillary's real persona as a peace-maker, problem-solver, and as a conflicted partner in love and politics. Mostly Hillary has learned survival techniques thanks to the words of wisdom as spoken regularly to her by the portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt (Judy Gold) that hangs on the wall of the oval office. " The words that resonate in my ears are Hillary's as she sings during the finale "And now it's finally my turn."
Beowulf Boritt designed the attractive setting, a raised revolving platform that served various locales. Patriotic banners adorn the side walls of the theater as do large portraits of eleven past presidents with smaller heart-shaped pictures of their wives behind them. It was fun to hear the audience attempting to name them all before the lights went out. As I left, I wondered if it will be Bill or will it be WJ who is pictured in the little heart in the background of the portrait of a president.