Newsical the Musical, with book, music, and lyrics by Rick Crom, is 90 minutes of topical humor, set to cutesy, simple melodies, with a fully committed cast of four. It’s The Daily Show without the genius of Jon Stewart; Forbidden Broadway without the bite of Gerard Alessandrini.
I like topical humor. Topical humor is great—in moderation. I enjoy Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin impression as much as the next liberal. And when Regis Philbin calls Snooki “Snoozie,” I laugh my head off. Fey’s award-winning Palin impression was uncanny—she captured her look, speech pattern, and dialect, while skewering and commenting on Palin’s remarks. It was so utterly convincing, without ever being over-the-top, that the country legitimately thinks Palin said the quote “I can see Russia from my house.” (She didn’t.)
The trouble with Newsical is that there’s no depth, just on-the-surface parodies and impressions of everything newsworthy from the past 12 months. Some of them are genuinely funny, like a father-and-son Lipitor advertisement that devolves into a screaming match, a fake infomercial about the Snuggie and the Shake Weight, an imitation of Bristol Palin on Dancing with the Stars, and a look at what would happen if Mr. Smith went to Washington now. There’s also a far too brief commercial for the cast of Jersey Shore performing Romeo and Juliet.
Others are startlingly unfunny, like a Harry Potter parody that has no relevance to anyone who hasn’t read—or doesn’t care for—the book/movie series. A trio of older ladies singing about getting felt up at the airport, and the jollies they get from it, goes on much too long. So too does a Hillary Clinton spoof and a Steven Slater-Jet Blue breakdown.
The cast gives it their all, including some spot-on impressions. Christine Pedi, always hilarious, does a shockingly convincing Joan Rivers, Liza Minnelli, Fran Drescher, and Julie Andrews. Michael West is a dead-ringer for the voice of George W. Bush, though not-so-much Barack Obama. John Walton West has Morgan Freeman captured perfectly. And Christina Bianco, who has the prettiest voice of the group, does an OK Kristin Chenoweth.
Ultimately, it never felt like Crom was delivering social commentary, just skewering things because he could. Newsical will surely appeal to some audiences. It just wasn’t for me.