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A CurtainUp Review
Michael Moore- The Terms of My Surrender
By Elyse Sommer
Donald J. Trump was the sitting and tweeting president when I entered the Belasco Theater, when I left, and he's still there as I write this review. It's unlikely that this provocateur-par-excellence and like-minded people can really unseat Mr. Trump any time soon, or that Trump will occupy the flag draped presidential box at the Belasco during this show's 10-week run. But cheer up. Moore's solo is an impressively well-structured script, an assured performance that, thanks to another Michael, director Michael Mayer, is presented with enough Broadway-ish theatricality to keep the rest of the theater's seats filled throughout its run.
Moore will certainly make you feel a little more inclined to not just sit back in helpless outrage, a little less depressed about Trump the brash realtor and Apprentice star having metamorphosed into President Trump — at least for a couple of hours and even a bit after you leave the theater. Hopefully, he'll stir all who cheer him as if they were at a call-and-response church service instead of a Broadway theater, to actually join him as a bee to really do something to undo some of what allowed Donald J. Trump to outsmart the popular "real majority" and perhaps make the likelihood of unseating him less of a wishful fantasy.
There's nothing really new about the infuriating reality of how the impossible has been made possible by years of allowing the country to slip into a dumbed-down corpocracy instead of a democracy with good public education and a solid middle class. But, like the documentaries that made him as well known as the man he's bashing, The Terms of My Surrender, is wrapped in a package that's a mix of personal anecdotes full of humor and relevance to the infuriating facts and practices that have fueled his calls to action with a combination of boastfulness and unpretentious pride — and always, lots of humor.
Some of the personal stuff is less familiar and very effectively used to tie in with his "you are the majority" as a call-to-action motivating mantra. His first attempt to unseat someone in a position of power (the principal of his Flint, Michigan high school) by running for and getting elected to the school board at age 18 is amusingly recalled and accompanied by a projected picture of Moore at a school board meeting (just one of Andrew Lazarow's numerous show-enhancing projections). While I remember President Ronald Reagan's controversial 1985 tribute to fallen Nazis at Germany's Bitburg cemetery, the story of the protest mounted by Moore and a Michigan friend whose parents died at Bergen-Belsen adds something new to that ill-conceived chapter of Reagan's presidency and one of the more touching moments in The Terms of My Surrender.
As someone whose first career was in the book business, I especially related to Moore's tussle with Rupert Murdoch the publisher who's plan to abandon Moore's first book Stupid White Men unless he made it more politically correct was undone by a single librarian who saved the 50,000 printed copies from being destroyed. (The book is currently in its 56th printing!)
What's so smart about Moore's script is the way he brings each of his anecdotes back to his call-to-action theme. (Spoiler alert: Count on that to apply even to his turning down a chance at a big weekly salary for appearing on Dancing with the Stars).
Nothing here is fake news, though there is one segment that seems manufactured to tie in with a segment about Moore being told that the law couldn't do anything about Glenn Beck's on air ponderings about ways to kill him because he was a celebrity. Moore's pairing this with a supposed call to Andrew Cuomo's office in which he mimics Beck by himself pondering ways to kill the governor just doesn't work.
And while Moore has the audience pretty much responding to his every word with enthusiastic laughs and hurrahs (Think Bette Midler's Dolly), the show sometimes goes from a bubbling boil to a very slow simmer; for example, an audience participation quiz testing whether Canadians or Americans were smarter. Apparently, this is used at performances that don't feature a special guest which, according to what I've heard, work better than this rather lame shtick did at my performance the night before the official opening.
As already mentioned, Michael Mayer and his designers have provided Mr. Moore with a few roll-on props and enough glitz to make his show justify its presence on Broadway. Kevin Adams lighting for that giant flag backdrop is especially effective.
And so, while it will take a miracle for The Terms of My Surrender to actually unseat Donald J. Trump by the time it closes, Moore's gig does offer up a surprise ending with a few co-stars (not credited in the program) designed to make you feel good long enough to temporarily ignore the continuing barrage of un-presidential tweets and dangerous off-the-cuff comments.
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The Terms of My Surrender
Written by and starring Michael Moore
Directed by Michael Mayer
Set: David Rockwell
Lighting: Kevin Adams
Sound: Brian Ronan
Costumes by Jeff Mahshie
Video and projections: Andrew Lazarow
Movement direction: Noah Racey
Stage Manager: Lisa Iacucci
Running Time: approx. 1 hours and 50 minutes to 2 hours, no intermission.
Belasco Theatre 111 W 44th Street
From 7/28/17; opening 8/10/17; closing 10/22/17
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer at 8/10/17 press preview
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