A surprisingly robust skewering of the '90s D.C. scene
Composers Paul and Michael Hodge might be Australian, but their satirical, musical take on Bill Clinton’s presidency from 1993 to 2001 hits American politics right on its semi-bulbous nose. Backed by a stellar cast of singing reporters, dancing Senate cardboard cutouts (kudos to scenic designer Beowulf Boritt for a very orange John Boehner) and a special appearance by that unforgettable blue dress, Clinton the Musical (now playing at New World Stages in midtown NYC) is a wildly fun reminder that politics are an absurd battle of wills.
First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (played by Tony Award nominee Kerry Butler) is the brains behind Bill’s successful run as president, and manages the two vastly different sides of her husband: Billy Clinton (Duke Lafoon), the saxophone-playing, pot-smoking, free-wheeling loverboy who just wants to have a good time; and William Jefferson Clinton (Tom Galantich), the focused, honorable man who puts his presidential duties first. As opposing sides of the same coin, they attempt to maneuver their way through scandal (struggling to tell the truth about an affair with infamous White House intern Monica Lewinsky) and triumph (three cheers for a balanced budget!) over two productive terms.
The supporting characters includes other real-life figures such as the portrayed-as-clueless congressman Newt Gingrich (John Treacy Egan) and Kenneth Starr (Kevin Zak), the provocative, flamboyant lawyer hell-bent on taking down the Clinton administration. Zak hits many high notes (even literally–think Mariah Carey) and possesses a maniacal laugh that rivals SpongeBob SquarePants’ Plankton and a bawdy striptease scene where he prances around in sparkly, see-through booty shorts. Emmy winner and comedian Judy Gold is no slouch here either, pulling double duty as the tacky Christmas-sweater loving civil servant Linda Tripp as well as Hillary’s voice of inspiration, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. And Lewinsky (played by Veronica J. Kuehn), has a tap dance number that inspires plenty of laughs; the phrase “I’m f—king the f—king president” will stay in your head long after the show is over.
As a teary-eyed Butler belts her heartache center stage after falling victim to the lies told by Bill, it’s apparent that the Hodge brothers’ satire is more than just a breezy one act of risqué jokes and political buffoonery. It’s only when Billy and WJ finally start telling the truth and face the world as one man that we begin to see how honesty carries more weight than the superficial song-and-dance politicians often love to perform. And at the end of this boisterous 92-minute venture, don’t be surprised if you find yourself singing “Hail to the Chief…Hillary Rodham Clinton.” A–