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Monday, 06 April 2015 20:48

Off-Broadway Review: CLINTON THE MUSICAL

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Off-Broadway Review: CLINTON THE MUSICAL Photo: Russ Rowland

The poster for New World Stages' Clinton The Musical leaves very little to the imagination. With self-aware mania it features every expected touch of a Clinton presidency satire. While these satirical statements are uninspired in the musical, a warm clowning farce succeeds and surprises.

Clinton the Musical's story follows both terms of Clinton's presidency. Its theatrical plot dilemma is founded on the conceit that there are two Bill Clintons as performed by two Bill Clintons. WJ Clinton, performed by Tom Galantich, is the clear headed professional of the two. Billy Clinton, performed by Duke Lafoon, is the saxophone wielding sex hound. Hillary (Kerry Butler) must negotiate with both WJ and Billy Clinton as well her own ambitions. This plot device is clunky in its execution. In splitting the moralistic compass of Bill Clinton into two equal bodies, his tragic character is much less compelling. However, in the actions surrounding the Bill duo, a rare broad political humor is made very effective.

Like Rocky and Mugsy from Looney Tunes, Kenneth Starr and Newt Gingrich, sadistically and stupidly stand on the sidelines attempting to dismantle the presidency. As performed with riotous commitment by both Kevin Zak and John Treacy Egan, the bumbling Starr and Gingrich are lampooned beyond recognition. Preferring broad characterizations to a detailed dissection of their hypocrisies, Newt is a fat imbecile and Kenneth Starr a sadist. Their interactions with both each other and the president induced swells of laughter.

With the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Lewinsky performed by Veronica J. Kuehn, the writers treated their character with a similar lack of subtlety but with a great deal more humanity. Ms. Lewinsky sings the songs catchiest tune whose refrain "I'm F*cking the F*cking President," entices both laughter and audience sympathy. She is shown as being young, naive, and legitimately in love, which is more than can be said for most major news broadcasts. Kerry Butler as Hillary, upon hearing of Bill's consistent infidelity, presents not a first lady, or a soon to be presidential candidate, but a heart broken wife. In the song "Enough" she humanely exposes the scandal's intimate and domestic toll. At the end of the play both Bills reveal themselves, preferring to work together, and Hillary decides to stand by Bill.

With The Daily Show cornering the market on good satire, the spectrum of political humor is extremely nuanced and intelligent. Jokes come with bibliographies and zingers with citations. In Clinton The Musical the farce of Bill as a hound, Hillary as the desperate over achiever and the ensemble in their various roles as a naive Monica, a sexual Eleanor Roosevelt (Judy Gold), and S&M Kenneth Starr, invites a catharsis of how awe inspiringly absurd our politicians can be. The jokes are presented uncut from the writing room and have the joyously rough mania of improvisation, even if not all of them land. In the end both Bills learn to reconcile themselves with one another. Though sadly this moral is extremely contrived and appears to come out of a misguided desperation for a unique perspective.

Paul Hodge's music is at worst forgettable and at best catchy. Many of the song's conceits such as double entendres are redundant and dull. The opening number, which welcomes the audience to the 90's, also falls fairly flat. Orchestrator Neil Douglas Reilly does a wonderful job legitimizing the use of this music in the performance without overpowering its presentation. Director Dan Knechtges' craft is clear and speaks to an understanding of the play's comedic aesthetic. Beowulf Boritt's set design, a cartoonish oval office with a rotating center, is beautiful with a few Easter eggs of intelligent satire strewn about. The costume design by David C. Woolard is also effective in balancing the realities of DC fashion and the musical's otherworldly characters. Lighting by Paul Miller is equally clean and serves the jokes, the pace, and the aesthetic well.

Additional Info

  • Theatre: New World Stages
  • Theatre Address: 340 W 50 Street New York, NY 10019
  • Show Style: Musical
  • Previews:: March 25, 2015
  • Opening Night: April 9, 2015
  • Closing: Open Ended
Last modified on Thursday, 09 July 2015 05:25