We the People: America Rocks
nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
July 12, 2010
When I was in seventh grade, my social studies teacher made the class memorize the Preamble to the Constitution, in anticipation of a quiz. As he didn't do very much to make "history come alive" for us, I slacked off right at the 3/4-mark of memorization. The day of the exam, he accidentally left his Preamble poster up on the wall—and our tests were voided.
If my middle school social studies teacher (heck, if my college American Politics professor) was as exciting as We The People: America Rocks!, a one-hour Theaterworks USA presentation with a book by Joe Iconis and a score by Iconis and a host of others, perhaps today I'd be in a political field rather than theatre criticism. But since I'm not, this is what I thought of the show.
The conceit is relatively simple. A precocious 14-year-old girl named Dawn is running for student body president but doesn't know why government is important. So the forefathers—George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin—take her on a guided tour of the American political system, illuminating the freedoms of the First Amendment, the three branches of government, the judicial system, the Electoral College, and getting a bill passed.
But what makes We The People so special is how Iconis and the various songwriters choose to interpret and explain these topics. Hip-hop is used to describe the powers of the Executive, Judicial and Legislative branches (in a song with lyrics by Jordan Allen-Dutton & Erik Weiner and music by Mark Weiner). A clean-air bill (Dawn versus a classmate who wears too much perfume) gets shot down in a rollicking song by Tommy Newman. And Iconis, in his signature style, explains the Electoral College in a way that allows even the least experienced voters to comprehend the eternally confusing way the President is elected.
For a show written by so many people, there's shockingly little tonal confusion in terms of style, and in Gordon Greenberg's staging there's enough excitement to keep the youngest audience members enthralled. It's flashy (with sets by Adam Koch, costumes by Laura LaVon, and lighting by Jeff Croiter), it's bouncy (with rollicking choreography by Michele Lynch), and it's loud (sound design by Michael S. Eisenberg). For the record, I suspect the music is canned, but you'd never know it.
Badia Farha as Dawn and Colin Campbell-McAdoo, F. Michael Haynie, Jamie LaVerdiere, and Abe Goldfarb as the Forefathers seem to be having a blast up to three times a day performing this show—and their enthusiasm shows. We The People is a treat for everyone.