Tag Archives: satire

Political Idol 2020 (Streaming)

Streaming into your living rooms just as early voting wraps up is the latest rendition of Political Idol, a musical review written by Robert Yarnall and Marc Emory and staged online for 2020 by Michael Goldfried.  Hosted by a suspicious Russian accented “Simon Cowell,” the conceit of the show within a show is that the candidates are competing for your votes by singing 16 parodies of pop and show songs.  The opening number to the tune of “I Hope I Get It” from “A Chorus Line” and featuring the cast dressed as many of the democratic candidates illustrates the cleverness of the liberally-bent lyrics.  The contest concept is dropped early on in the script and it’s hard to gauge whether there remains an appetite for revisiting the earlier days of this taut election.  But certainly the performers deliver strong vocals and amusing impressions.

Still shot from Political Idol 2020

For those who can remember the 1970s, the humor is reminiscent of the musical interludes from Laugh-In, with often just a line or two from each entry performed with a punch. The strongest numbers are presented a third of the way through the 42 minute runtime with Mary Trump’s “Everything Comes From Neurosis” (based on “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from “Gypsy”), “Season of Trump” (set to the splendid “Seasons of Love” from Jonathan Larson’s “Rent”) and a memorable medley that will ensure you never forget how to pronounce the Democratic VP candidate’s first name delivering the biggest laughs.  The creative team has chosen to pre-record each performer remotely.  Having witnessed a fair amount of squishy green screen this season, I appreciated having Bruno-Pierre Houle’s virtual production design added in post so that the effects enhance rather than distract from images of the actors.  Sara Jean Tosetti contributes clever costume designs that also add value to the impersonations.

With music direction by Anessa Marie, each actor was recorded separately against a monochrome back drop.  Though I wish the lip synch was more consistently *synched*, the sound quality and vocals are high. Enga Davis has an edge having been given the shining characters of  Oprah, Michelle Obama and Kamala Harris to portray.  She gives each a clear and powerful voice, as you’d expect. Lara Buck Antolik is more exaggerated as Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren and Nancy Pelosi.  Her Melania Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle mug far more than they sing, though her body language has sparkle. Writer Yarnall gets into the act with a hilariously naughty Mike Pence and subtle Mayor Pete among others.  That Scott Foster’s orange-tinged Trump falls flat is not a reflection on his talent.  As feedback on the newest season of SNL illustrates, there is Trump Impression Fatigue throughout our land caused on one side by a feeling that the President is the one true American voice in politics and on the other by a sense of dread that democracy might never recover from his term in office.  Foster’s Biden fairs a little better, though the Democratic candidate plays a more muted role. Joe DiSalle rounds out the cast with a creepy Bill Barr and creepier Mitch McConnell.

As good natured as it is, Political Idol 2020 has an unfortunate timing issue.  This election has become too serious to be treated as a laughing matter.  However, if this jingly musical inspires even one more person to vote, it will have served its purpose well.  It is available online for $20.20 at https://www.politicalidollive.com until November 4. 

The Thanksgiving Play

In the right hands, satire can be a terrific educational tool.  This was clearly in the mind of award-winning playwright and activist Larissa FastHorse when she chose to go broad with The Thanksgiving Play.  Pained by the way the typical Thanksgiving story obliterates the voices of her people, the Sicangu Lakota uses laughter rather than lecture to take on all those insulting myths.  This is the award winner’s first New York production and it’s a worthy entrance. Through her four well-intentioned if off-base characters, she blows up those oft-repeated stories of pilgrims showering America’s indigenous peoples with respect and side dishes.  The results are uneven and she’s likely preaching to at large number of regular choir members, but a good time can still be had.

Thanksgiving Play

Greg Keller, Jennifer Bareilles, Jeffrey Bean, and Margo Seibert; photo by Joan Marcus

The economical cast of achingly progressive characters are developing a holiday performance that celebrates Native American Heritage month for a elementary school audience.  The director of this play within a play is Logan, an anxiety prone vegan who has pulled together an array of small niche grants in order to fund her vision of a more honest Thanksgiving story.  Her school play will co-star Disney-obsessed actress Alicia and Logan’s yoga-loving street performer boyfriend, Jaxton.  Rounding out the “creative team” is Caden, a playwright-wanna be and first grade teacher.  For the majority of the 90 minute runtime, these well-intentioned souls improvise and brainstorm their way towards an increasingly awkward outcome.  Their endeavors are occasionally interrupted by wildly off-kilter musical numbers covering all the cringe inducing story elements they are trying to leave behind.

Under the direction of Moritz Von Stuelpnagel, the dialogue starts out at such a high pitch it doesn’t have enough room to grow.  Jennifer Bareilles as Logan is a constant bundle of nerves.  Greg Keller’s Jaxton’s oozes PC doctrine from every pore.  Margo Seibert’s Alicia is such an airhead she’s perfected the art of looking at the ceiling.  And Jeffrey Bean’s Caden is like a Jack Russel terrier, excited just to be in their company.  All four quality actors do their best to add range and fair better with the piece’s physical humor.   These moments includes an uncoupling ritual and reading aloud from several fantastically illustrated textbooks.

The design team mostly strikes the right comedic notes.  The single set by Wilson Chin combines classic classroom elements with some of the most appropriately inappropriate theater posters.  Costume designer Tilly Grimes delivers equally well with liberal casual and tacky pageant wear.  Lighting created by Isabella Byrd highlights the action as it shifts from faux intense to intensely faux.

As both a comedy and a lesson plan, this production of The Thanksgiving Play would likely earn a B- for its insufficient build and variation.  But it has heart and successfully serves as a reminder that the upcoming family holiday is fraught with misunderstandings that go far down and way back.  Certainly if you’ve ever had a Caucasion friend who built a sweat lodge right next to his jacuzzi to honor “their heritage,” you will recognize FastHorse’s creations.  And even if you haven’t, you’ll be reminded that what you’ve learned about US history is not necessarily the full story. 

Performances are scheduled to run through November 25 at the Peter Jay Sharp theater at Playwrights Horizons.  For tickets and information visit https://www.playwrightshorizons.org/shows/plays/thanksgiving-play/.