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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for U.S. 1 Newspaper and

posted on www.princetoninfo.com on February 15. All rights reserved.

Bush is Bad: The Musical Cure for the Blue-State Blues

The Democrats apparently haven’t got a clue how to either

effectively stand up to the demagogic divisive agenda of this

administration, or to bolster more support from its ever-wavering

constituency. The entertainment industry knows exactly what it can do

and does it with commitment, focus, and brio. Three New York shows —

"Bush is Bad," "Bush Wars: Musical Revenge," and "Laughing Liberally"

— are doing what they can to lift liberal spirits and give the ruling

right the old one-two. They are not afraid to bring their

democratically principled opposition to the fore in the true spirit of

patriotic activism.

"Laughing Liberally," an evening of stand-up comedy, has already

played its one-night-only stand at Town Hall on Saturday, February,

but is expected to return for an extended Off-Broadway run. "Bush

Wars: Musical Revenge" is a satire on Bush, Cheney, Social Security,

the courts, and science. I have not yet seen it, but it recently

opened at the Collective Unconscious, 279 Church Street and runs

through Sunday, February 19. The longest-running of these politically

propelled entertainments is "Bush is Bad," playing since September,

2005, and the most likely to continue indefinitely.

There no beating around the Bush (no pun intended) in this

occasionally trenchant and tight little revue that skewers the current

administration with an emphasis on "the smirking chimp who currently

occupies the White House." There is also no respite from the

purposefulness and single-mindedness of its creator/composer/lyricist,

Joshua Rosenblum, who impressed many with his vibrant and witty score

for Fermat’s Last Tango, produced by the York Theater Company in 2000.

He certainly leaves no doubt as to where his political feelings and

alliances are as he gleefully and meaningfully skewers "the liars and

scum" in the federal government.

Yes, those are harsh words, but perhaps they are not harsh enough for

some of the presumably progressive audiences that have kept the revue

going since September 29, 2005. Republicans should be duly forewarned

that Rosenblum’s agenda is clearly laid out in 21 corrosively comical

songs, all of which denounce just about everything this administration

stands for.

Preaching to the choir may be in part therapeutic, and in the case of

"Bush is Bad," it is also empowering. However, there is also a

predictable aspect to Rosenblum’s parodic punches. The format is

simple, almost simplistic in its presentation. A pianist (David

Wolfson played with gusto at the performance I attended, taking over

for regular accompanist Rosenblum, who had the night off) shares the

stage with Kate Baldwin, Neal Mayer, and Tom Treadwell. These three

personable entertainers perform solo or as an ensemble with the

prescribed energy and enthusiasm devised by director/choreographer

Gary Slavin.

If our willingness to be surprised, shocked, and awed is too rarely

rewarded, it is due more to the fact that the administration’s

embarrassing faux pas and grievous failures are already old news. The

performers are gifted and excellent singers but are not particularly

at their best in creating caricatures like those deployed in revues

like "Forbidden Broadway." Neither are the skits as sophisticated in

their political observations as seen in the various editions of

Capitol Steps. Ensemble numbers are the best and reach a peak with

"Scooter Libby Superstar," in which the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber

gets infused into a mock mini-operetta.

Rosenblum’s gift for the melodic is notable, as in the revue’s

spirited opening number, "How Can 59 Million People Be So Dumb," that

cannily prepares us for the mixture of verve and vitriol that follows.

The fact that most musical comedies these days cannot boast that even

half of their songs are really memorable makes the five or six songs

that are excellent in "Bush is Bad" something to shout about. One of

my favorites is "Das Busch Ist Schlect (Bad)," a really hilarious

parody of German lieder in which you-know-who, Rumsfeld, and Cheney

become the recipients of baritone Treadwell’s guttural,

phlegm-producing German vocals. You don’t need to know German to get

the message. Drag is not beyond Treadwell’s scope, and he gets points

for his clownish impersonation of Barbara Bush giving an "Ethics

Class."

Such issues as deficits in the trillions, the legalization of

hand-guns, and the funding of the arts are woven through numbers like

"Good Conservative Values" (in two parts), as being gay is in "I May

Be Gay (But I’m No Lesbian"). "Mom is Pissed" admits a defensive Mary

Cheney (Baldwin), who cannot quite get the L word out. The debates are

amusingly remembered as Bush is wired with a super-large transmitter

that is secured beneath his shoulder pad so he can hear Karl Rove.

"I’m losing you, Karl," says Bush as Rove’s prompting gets lost in

static.

No political parody would be complete without homage to Kurt Weill.

Baldwin perfectly captures the essence of Lotte Lenya and the futile

despair of Laura Bush, as she bewails her marriage to "the borderline

illiterate" in "Sure, You Betcha, George." But it takes the actual

words of GWB to push the audience into unrestrained laughter: "the

past is over…Is our kids learning?…If we don’t succeed, we risk

failure…It’s time to restore chaos and order…When we talk of war,

we are really talking about peace…Put food on your family…Make the

pie higher." Quotes like these are reason enough for an atheist to

say, "God help us."

*** Simon Saltzman

Bush is Bad, Thursday and Friday nights, 9 p.m., Triad

Theater, 158 West 72nd Street (near Broadway. $25 with a two drink

minimum). 212-362-2511


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