LETTERS TO EDITOR
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A CurtainUp Review
by David Lohrey
One really needs a new vocabulary to capture just how unfulfilling this production is. One lacks the terminology to describe what it really is. Musical comedy simply will not do. This is skit stuff, yuks turned into prolonged skits that pretend to be scenes. The theme seems to be something like the joy of living in an idiotic country. It’s a kind of celebration of the moronic inferno known as the USA. It is not satire, nor is it parody. Perhaps calling it a Musical Mockery captures the essence of this exercise in smug ridicule. What is certain is that it is a real crowd pleaser, appealing, as it does, to the same sensibilities as pro wrestling and roller derby. The audience laughs its collective head off, hearing the same jokes told for the hundredth time, long past their ability to sting.
Think of Saturday Night Live. Remember those newsworthy imitations of George Bush and Bill Clinton? Now imagine two different actors in their roles. Take two actors who bear little or no resemblance to their subjects. Consider what those skits would have been with actors lacking the skill or talent to imitate the movements and gestures of their prey. Now laugh, not because the actors are brilliant but because the actors are bad. This is what Mr. President asks of its audience. The so-called book consists of nothing more than scenes from the 2000 election, the Presidential debates, the Florida recounts, jokes on post-election news and rumors –- in other words, a musical replay of events leading up to and following the election of George W. Bush.
Jono Mainelli plays Irving Berlin himself. He plays the piano on-stage and, unlike the rest of the cast, manages to get through the evening without humiliating himself. It is a heroic performance as MC/accompanist. He has a small, seedy, stage look that is right for this Mockery. Clif Thorn as George Shrub, Jr. comes as close as anyone to actually resembling the man he is playing. But, of course, he is asked to do little beyond looking dumb, confused, bewildered, and ignorant. This he does well, but one can only wonder what he might have done had he been asked for more.
As Al Bore/Will Fenton, Michael West played the cliché as well as can be expected. He was especially amusing in his split-personality scene, wearing a single wig, dyed half white for Clinton, and the other black for Gore. West’s comic talent and combustible energy, nonetheless, was largely wasted on predictable, adolescent gags, as familiar as the nightly news. Amanda Naughton as Flora Shrub is a crowd-pleaser, but not at all suited to playing Laura Bush. There is nothing in the public record suggesting that the First lady is a nail-biting neurotic on pills. Nothing offered in her performance rings true, while clearly much could be made of the personality we see presented daily by the press. Whitney Allen, like Amanda Naughton, has a winning personality, but seems never to have considered the personality she is asked to play. If only the material had called on them to dig more deeply. Ms. Allen’s Chillary is pushy –- and that seems right –- but also expresses a bemused self-awareness, which the real Hillary has never revealed. Surely, what makes Hillary so funny is her seeming unwilling ness to laugh at herself.
Coalhouse Power is played effectively enough by Eric Jordan Young, but what in the world is the point of casting a youth to play General Powell? Stuart Zagnit is hilarious in drag as Barbara Shrub, but seems totally miscast as Dick Brainy, the Vice President. Zagnit wears a blue dress and over-sized pearl necklace to capture the essence of Mrs. Bush’s persona, but completely misses the Vice-President, doing instead a cross between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, an essentially comic figure playing second fiddle, while everyone knows Cheney plays first violin. The point is not that the material fails the historical accuracy test. Who cares? The point is that jokes grounded in reality are funnier than those left floating in the air.
The producers admit the music is bad. That’s part of the fun, they say. But, then, something else had better be good. There’s no dancing to speak of. The jokes are stale. And the impersonations are off. One is left with no choice but to look for something else.
Editor's Note: You might want to check out Mr. Alessandrini's latest addition to his long running Broadway musical spoof, at the same theater: Forbidden Broadway 2001: a Spoof Odyssey