Review By: Carey Purcell
A guilty pleasure for any theater-going liberal in New York (which, of course, are few and far between), the current performance at the Actor’s Playhouse provides a delicious and delightful roast of President Bush. Bush Wars, a musical review, consists of 16 songs that parody the Bush Administration from top to bottom and beginning to end.
Based on the premise that George W. Bush sold his soul to the devil to avoid being sent to duty in the National Guard (Damn Yankees, anyone?), the show addresses W’s decision to wage a war “unlike any war before,” on Saddam Hussein, homosexuals, evolution and even democracy itself.
Nothing in America is safe in this show, which mocks political, economic and social aspects of the country without much malice and little mercy. Biting humor, reminiscent of Mel Brooks or Forbidden Broadway pervades every scene. Every lie, every irony and every hypocrisy that one could think of (and there are plenty) are mocked in this show.
A skit about the institute of marriage depicts Bush honoring the “perfect” American family, who quickly reveal that they are far than perfect. In a moment of satirical brilliance, Bush, states that, “It’s no surprise that God is spelled GOP” (followed with a jazzy ending of, “Just ask Mel Gibson…”). The class Republican Sociology 101 teaches its bright-eyed students the use of fear to manipulate people into submission, sung to the song “The Hokey-Pokey.” The song “Be Our Guest,” from Beauty and the Beast, is rewritten to be about immigration, with an army official inviting people into the country, saying, “Be our guest, be our guest, be exploited, be oppressed.”
This show is not simply satire, however. It is also entertainment, and entertainment that is extremely well-done. Each of the performers possesses remarkable vocal skills, demonstrated beautifully in the harmonies of “Oh When The Saints Go Marching Out,” a melody about survivors of Katrina waiting for help from FEMA. As individual characters, Jay Falzone is delicious as the devil, both slick and sinful, and Abigail Nessen’s plaintive melody, “I’m From a Blue State Blues” is worthy of any jazz club in the city. Jason Levinson is hilarious as Bush, acting befuddled and bewildered, with an accent uncannily similar to the actual Commander in Chief. Instead of playing the President as a crazed cowboy, he opts for a confused naiveté, complete with the mispronunciation of words, such as “fruitization” and optimistical.”
It takes a delicate balance to maintain this level of humor, and despite a few over-the-top moments, Bush Wars maintains very well. Even in New York, seeing Jesus Christ singing and dancing with Bush (in cowboy boots, at that) about being “Bosom Buddies” is a bit surprising. The humor is funny, but also dark, and at times the laughter stops completely. When the Supreme Court members sing, “Stop – In the Name of Us” to celebrate their moving to the right, the humor is entertaining at first and quickly progresses to frightening as the song progresses and they go from banning abortion to drinking frappucinos.
This comedy comes at a cost. While the spoofs are hilarious and , it is impossible to forget where this humor came from. Falzone performs a skit spoofing Dr. Frist – complete with a frantic head twitch – who claims that he can diagnose anyone simply by looking at and touching them. While the frantic pace of the skit is funny at first, as he singles people out of the audience and humiliates them with embarrassing diagnosis, it takes a darker turn when Terry Schiavo is brought on stage in a wheelchair, and he demands that she dance with him. When she remains in the chair and he claims that she is a beautiful dancer, another level of comedy is reached, and that one isn’t quite so funny.
The idea of musical theater used to consist of happy people doing high kicks in chorus lines. Thanks to shows like Rent, Avenue Q, and Urinetown, that has changed. Seeing people look angry as they sing is an uncommon aspect to be brought to the stage. Not every show has a happy ending.
The show runs until November 2008, or until Bush is impeached. For the sake of the show, let’s hope it keeps going, but for the sake of the country, let’s hope it closes very soon.