Clinton the Musical
ClintonMania finally reaches off-Broadway.
As Hillary Rodham Clinton stealthily sets up her campaign headquarters in Brooklyn Heights (on Clinton Street), New Yorkers may want to head over to New World Stages to reflect upon the first two Clinton terms in Clinton the Musical. Of course, that was officially the presidency of her husband, William Jefferson Clinton, but in the wacky and wonderful minds of authors Michael Hodge and Paul Hodge, Americans very clearly got two for the price of one.
Or should we say three? This uproarious musical romp deals with Mr. Clinton's duplicitous nature by having him portrayed as two distinct characters: serious statesman WJ (a staid Tom Galantich) and saxophone-toting playboy Billy (Duke Lafoon, who has the Clinton vocal fry down pat). Only Hillary (the quirky and big-voiced Kerry Butler) can see them both at once, leading to some awkward encounters in front of the press. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (a cartoonish John Treacy Egan) wants only to obstruct the Clinton machine. Meanwhile, special prosecutor Kenneth Starr (Kevin Zak) is out to bring them down by making Bill the first president ever to be removed from office.
Zak plays Starr like a perverted Disney villain with a severe cowlick. He wows us with his high-flying falsetto in his show-stopping number "A Starr Is Born." The hilarious Judy Gold endows Christmas-loving snitch Linda Tripp with a praying mantis-like physicality. As infamous White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Veronica J. Kuehn gets the show's most memorable number, delivered with joyous gusto and considerable vocal chops. Modestly titled "Monica's Song" in the program, you'll have to fight back the urge to break into its catchy and profane pop chorus ("I'm f*cking the f*cking president") as you leave the theater. With a knack for witty lyrics, bouncy tunes, and delightfully irreverent storytelling, the brothers Hodge have a keen sense of musical comedy and how to stretch it beyond its most ridiculous ends.
Clinton was previously presented as part of last year's New York Musical Theatre Festival, where it was hands-down the funniest show in the pack. Originally over two hours, it has been shaved down to an intermissionless 95 minutes for this off-Broadway transfer. While many of the changes are smart (removing political strategist Dick Morris as a character), others are unfortunate, like the replacement of the "Sexual Relations Macarena" with a much less period-appropriate music-hall ditty.
Director Dan Knechtges compensates for what has been lost by delivering a fast-paced production full of design surprises. David Woolard's campy costumes run the gamut from '90s realness to presidential Halloween costumes to S&M active wear. To supplement the 11-person cast, cardboard cutouts portray Al Gore and the congressional Republicans. These two-dimensional GOPers ride a center-stage turntable on and off, facilitating speedy scene transitions.
Scenic designer Beowulf Boritt's fantasy White House has striped blue walls covered with portraits of ex-presidents. Within each of these is a smaller heart-shaped frame depicting that Prez's piece on the side (Kennedy has six! James Buchanan's features William Rufus King) and giving us a sense of historical precedent for the bad behavior happening before us.
The only non-president on the walls is Eleanor Roosevelt (Judy Gold at her WASPiest), who occasionally comes alive to offer Hillary sage nuggets of advice like, "A woman is like a tea bag." (You don't know how strong she is until you put her in hot water.) This is particularly helpful as Hillary contends with her own husband's infidelity and considers leaving him. Of course, we all know how that turned out. Contemplating her own presidential run (perhaps in 2008), Hillary prophetically sings:
I'll be the blackest cup of tea they'll ever see!
Yes! Nobody could be more black than me!
Ah well, there's always 2016...