Me the People: The Trump America Musical continues at The Triad Theatre, New York.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Political comedy has reached new levels of brazenness with the ascension of real estate mogul Donald Trump to President of the United States.
The new satirical revue, Me the People: The Trump America Musical, is a bright and shiny example of the trend, with a quartet of deliciously talented performers, plus a miraculously industrious piano accompanist, taking aim at a broad range of the happenings and attitudes that have marked the still-young Trump government.
One’s reaction to the show is, of course, going to depend on one’s own political leanings. The show’s creators and producers leave no doubt as to where their sympathies lie.
The programme bio for Nancy Holson, who wrote the book and lyrics, tells us: “It is her strong belief that we all need to resist the horrors of the Trump administration. Me the People is her way of using her voice.”
However, it’s possible that even the most unshakeable Trump supporters might be tempted to laugh it up a bit over the antics of the cast and the bite of Holson’s lyrics.
Holson sets her words to a cavalcade of familiar and not-so-familiar melodies, including vintage pop hits and show tunes. For example, she has Vice-President Mike Pence, known for his social ultra-conservatism, singing about the effectiveness of gay-conversion therapy to the tune of the 1950 bauble ‘Orange Coloured Sky’.
“If you own small dogs and listen to show tunes/Testosterone is something that you lack,” Pence sings. “Flash! Bam, Alakazam!/You can be a lumberjack.”
Another of Holson’s more inspired conceits is having two military guys sing: “How do you solve a problem like Korea?” I’m sure I don’t have to tell Sound of Music fans what melody is used for those words.
In the same skit, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un responds with a determined: “Build another missile,” to the tune of ‘Give a Little Whistle’ from Disney’s Pinocchio.
The four-person ensemble – Aiesha Alia Dukes, Mitchel Kawash, Richard Spitaletta and Mia Weinberger – handles this material with an abundance of triple-threat adroitness.
With Jay Falzone providing both direction and choreography, they switch effortlessly from one impression – and musical style – to the next, often with split-second timing. Their efforts are abetted nicely by Stephen Smith’s apt costumes and Kathy Pecevich’s wigs.
Falzone’s staging also makes expert use of the venue, with its cramped stage and cabaret format, the audience sitting at tables and counters. The director is one of the conceivers of the show, along with Holson and Jim Russek, whose various careers include ad executive and political consultant.
Among the numerous impressive bits is Spitaletta’s breathless tongue-tripping through a rewrite of ‘Tchaikovsky’, the Danny Kaye hit from the musical Lady in the Dark, enumerating the Trump crew’s various relationships with Russians.
Spitaletta also scores as a smirking Paul Ryan, the powerful US Speaker of the House of Representatives, going right into the audience to discuss the proposed new health care bill.
Weinberger joins with Spitaletta to uncannily channel Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jordan Kushner as a pair of tap-dancing lovebirds promoting their personal businesses while trotting the globe.
When in Paris, Jordan turns to a Gershwin standard to tell the French: “I’ll build a tower in Paris France/Make the Eiffel second rate/All that I ask is a small advance/It will make your city great.” With an easy change in lyrics, the song also works for St. Petersburg and Tel Aviv.
While Kushner wheels and deals, Ivanka declares her by-rote support of women’s rights and auctions off items from her fashion collection. They include a dress with stitches so tiny they “can only be sewn by highly-trained children in my specially outfitted factory in China”.
Weinberger also uses her impressionist skills to deliver a quietly befuddled First Lady Melania Trump; and in the big finale, a rambunctious Hillary Clinton, venting her anger at losing the Presidential election to Trump, with just two words (modesty prevents me from printing them here) for her opponent.
Among Kawash’s laugh-getting bits is his reincarnation of Sigmund Freud analyzing Trump through his tweets. Donning a wig with bountiful white hair, he also delivers a jaw-dropping simulation of a saxophone-playing Bill Clinton.
Another Gershwin standard is called into play, when Dukes depicts a depressed Statue of Liberty, fired from her job of welcoming immigrants into the country. “Nice work if you can get it,” she sings, “but I don’t get it – had it yesterday.”
Dukes also takes the spotlight as a saucy, frolicking chambermaid at Trump’s Hotel Mar-A-Lago in Florida.
Stalwart accompanist James Higgins (he’s also music director and arranger) gets into the thespian mode as a pianist greeting customers at the bar in Trump’s Washington D.C. hotel. Among those guests is Spitaletta’s spectral but still blustery Richard Nixon, recalling his own presidential troubles and telling Trump – a la Sinatra – to do it ‘Your Way’.
One figure missing in this mural of outrage and humour is Trump himself. Holson has been quoted as explaining this somewhat obliquely: “If we put Donald Trump on stage in some way to make him accessible, we are doing a disservice to what our mission is.”
I’m not quite sure what she means by that, but assuming that at least part of Holson’s mission is to make us laugh, she certainly succeeds.
Not everything squarely hits its mark and obviously, there’s a lot of ‘preaching to the choir’ about this show, but if nothing else, it’s a very funny, well-delivered sermon.
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