Sunday, July 2, 2017

37 (2017-2018): Review: ME THE PEOPLE (seen July 1, 2017)

“Trump, Trump, Trump along the Lie-way”

If you’ve just awoken from a two-year coma and need a refresher on what’s been going on in American politics while your lights have been out, you might appreciate Me the People: The Trump America Musical, a mildly humorous political revue about the 45th POTUS.  On the other hand, if you’ve been awake and paying attention it’s unlikely you’ll learn much from Me the People, or, for that matter, find it all that funny. Trump’s presidency, for all its outlandishness, has been a nightmare for progressives and, despite its potential as comic fodder, nothing could be as ridiculous (or tragic) as the thing itself.
Mia Weinberger, Richard Spitaletta. Photo: Stephen Schwartz.
Ever since Trump first announced his candidacy, we’ve endured a 24/7 cycle not only of political news about him but a nonstop comic barrage shooting anything from howitzer blasts to sling shots at everything in his domain. (For a gallery of production photos click here.)

First, there are his physical features: his hair, his face, his skin color, his chin(s), his belly, his hands, his sex organ, and so on. Then we have his ties, his suits, his family, his father, his gestures, his language, his buildings, his businesses, his taxes, his wealth, his reading, his TV watching, his marriages, and so on. And, of course, there are his lies, his tweets, his policies, his arrogance, his racism, his crudity, his sexism, his supporters, you name it. If you’re a regular viewer of CNN or MSNBC you probably know more, and have stronger feelings, about him than about any previous holder of the office.

TV comedy, of course, has benefitted greatly from his presence; he not only boosted Alec Baldwin’s career, he’s a regular target of all the major TV hosts, from Maher to Colbert to Meyers to Bee to Noah and so on down the line. There’s even a series about him starring Anthony Atamanuik called “The President Show." Numerous New York plays have squeezed in one-liners aimed in Trump’s direction, sometimes subtly and sometimes not; Off-Broadway plays like Build That Wall have taken him on directly while Broadway’s 1984 is assumed to be attacking his ideas indirectly.

All of the above makes it nearly impossible for an intimate Off-Broadway revue like Me the People to add anything new to the cultural onslaught, even with an ever-evolving script so up-to-date it references the Mika-Joe Twitter controversy. “Saturday Night Live,” whose most popular sketches last season were aimed at Trump, spent only a small part of its weekly shows getting on his case; however, being reminded of almost every creature in this so-called leader’s black lagoon (a.k.a. swamp) for a nonstop, 85-minutes can be a slog, no matter how much you enjoy seeing Trump get his lumps. Still, given the need for some outlet, any outlet, for theatregoers to vent their disgust, shows like this, mixed bags as they are, perform a valuable public service.

Conceived by Jim Russek, Nancy Holson, and Jay Falzone (who choreographed and directed), Me the People is one of those shows that makes its points by adding new lyrics to well-known songs. Nancy Holson’s book (what there is of it) and delightfully apt lyrics go, with barely any narrative linkage, from one number to the other with a cast of five (four, as noted below, when I went) rapidly changing Stephen Smith's numerous costumes and Kathy Pecevich's deliberately cheesy wigs. 

The routines include having Ben Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Betsy Ross satirize the desecration of the Constitution to the tune of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”; Betsy De Vos  ringing out with “We’re Screwing Your Schools” to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Be True to Your School”; a lounge singer and Sigmund Freud knocking off Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” (no explanation required); the transformation of the Eagles’ “Welcome to the Hotel California” into “Welcome to the Hotel Mar-A-Lago”; Mike Pence’s singing, to the tune of “Orange Colored Sky,” that “Flash, Bam, Alakazam, I can fix you if you’re gay”; and lots more where these came from. By the way, "Rockin' Robin," with its "tweet tweet tweet" refrain, gets a central place in the show.

The Triad is a cabaret space, and drinks are served before and during the performance. Its tiny stage is set with only a simple flat at center on which the W in We the People is turned upside down to say Me the People. In addition to those already cited, the caricatures on hand include a Russian spy, Kim Jong Un (“How Do You Solve a Problem Like Korea?”), Ivanka, Jared, Melania, Paul Ryan (singing about the “mighty bungle” of health care reform to “In the Jungle”), and many others crammed into the presidential clown car (among them, an overdone Richard Nixon) doing the snarky honors. DJT himself never appears.
Mia Weinberger. Photo: Stephen Schwartz.
The most memorable number comes at the end when Hillary Clinton rocks new lyrics sung to Cee Lo Green’s “Fuck You,” supported by Bill Clinton and Tim Kaine, the latter wearing a horrible blond wig that more closely suggests Trump's do than that of the ex-candidate for Veep. The song’s angry, post-election takedown includes lines like this, which alone are worth waiting for.


It’s not Cole Porter but, ooh ooh ooh, it sounds so good.

When I attended, James Higgins, the musical director, continued in that function while also replacing Aisha Alia Dukes as part of the ensemble, which may have altered the production sequence and performance dynamic. At any rate, a number in the script that has the Supreme Court mimicking the Supremes singing a version of “Stop In the Name of Love” (retitled: “Stop In the Name of Us”) was missing.

The other performers are Mitchel Kawash, Richard Spitaletta, and Mia Weinberger. They cavort with nonstop energy but the impersonations are mostly ragged and singing ability is not a company strength. Only Weinberger displays the kind of standout, all-around, musical and comic talent, not to mention appearance, that augurs well for a bright showbiz future.

Judging by the audience response, many people are itching to laugh loudly at our Tweeter-in-Chief, regardless of how sophomoric the jokes may be. Me the People will help scratch that itch, especially when the cast (and audience) concludes with:


From their mouths to Trump's ears.


Triad Theater
250 W. 72nd St., NYC
Through September 7