Bush Is Bad
nytheatre.com review by Fred Backus
September 22, 2005
Are you appalled by our current president and not sure how to vent your rage? Do you feel a loss of camaraderie and purpose since Kerry was beaten by Bush? Are your online petitions and blogs still leaving a void that can only be filled by getting together live with a room full of like-minded people and having a little fun at the expense of our Commander-in-Chief? If so, you might want to drop by the Triad Theatre some Thursday night at 9 PM, and attend Bush is Bad: The Musical Cure for the Blue-State Blues.
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a nuanced political discussion that tries to find common ground between the Donkey and the Elephant, this may not be the show for you. Living up to its title, Bush is Bad is an unapologetic evening of rampant Bush-bashing that is not intended to change any minds or bestow any bold new insights into how to view the current administration. Rather, the show is meant to entertain, comfort, and even inspire the already thoroughly disgusted. I’m happy to say that Bush is Bad delivers the goods.
Composer-lyricist Joshua Rosenblum has written an impressive collection of satirical songs that take us through the trials and tribulations of the Bush presidency. With songs such as “New Hope for the Fabulously Wealthy” (a paean by the rich to Bush’s historic tax cut), “I’m Losing You, Karl” (a musical retelling of the second 2004 Presidential Debate that explains the mysterious lump under the president’s jacket), and “John Bolton has Feelings, Too” (a sardonic plea for the misunderstood U.N. ambassador), Rosenblum shows an ability to heap scorn on Bush from a wide variety of angles with a light-handed wit that dances around its subjects before making well-executed and effective thrusts of the épée.
Rosenblum, who is a professional pianist and a Broadway orchestra conductor, also uses his extensive repertoire and knowledge of American popular musical forms to mix it up and create just the right tune for a given title. There’s “Lying Liars,” which has Ann Coulter, Dick Cheney, and Karl Rove having a good laugh over their successful spin-doctoring to a sophisticated jazzy rhythm with tight three part harmonies. There’s “The I Word” (for “Impeachment”), which is a stirring anthem and call to arms. “On Our Way (to Guantanamo Bay)” has the feel of an old soft shoe number, while “Culture of Life,” a brilliantly scathing attack on the Right to Life agenda, taps into the vaudevillian tradition. “Good Conservative Values,” where the cast takes on dour personas as the Republican rank and file, sounds like something you might hear from a prep school glee club.
Gary Slavin brings the eye of a seasoned professional to his choreography of the individual songs and in his direction of the show as a whole, and has assembled an accomplished trio of musical theatre performers. Kate Baldwin, Neal Mayer, and Michael McCoy all have fine voices and great musical skill, and work well together to create a fun atmosphere that is kept moving along with excellent comic timing. Each of the three performers has at least one great solo as well. Look out for “Crazy Ann Coulter,” where Baldwin provides a delightfully demented portrayal of the infamous conservative talk show celebrity; Michael McCoy’s rousing rendition of John Ashcroft in the hilarious blues number “Beaten by a Dead Man”; and Neal Mayer’s sassy and derisive jibing in “The Gay Agenda.”
It’s always great to see well-written material arranged, directed, and performed by talented professionals, but perhaps what really makes the evening work is that for all its barbs, Bush is Bad somehow manages to avoid being overly smug and superior. This is perhaps because its convictions seem genuine. Rosenblum and his self-proclaimed “gang of conspirators” may be having a lot of laughs, but ultimately one gets the sense that he does not see the current political situation as a laughing matter, and would gladly trade all of his songs for a different electoral result in the last presidential election. Instead, there is sense of utter disbelief and embarrassment mixed in with the outrage, which is perfectly summed up in the opening number, “How Can 59 Million People Be So Dumb?” As long as Rosenblum can maintain his passion and wit and continue to attract a talented and committed creative team, he should be able to keep updating his material to keep going through the next three years. After that, he can either take a well deserved rest, or start sharpening his knives for the next guy.