nytheatre.com review by Alyssa Simon
August 16, 2008
The Deciders, a rock musical about about the three P's—power, patriotism and propaganda—in our government's decision to invade Iraq, is an absolute must-see. Not because of its message's newness. Disgracefully, the Iraq war is more than five years old. We know the horrible statistics of loss on both sides. And not because what you hear and see will be optimistic. Actual quotes from George Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condoleezza Rice spoken by actors portraying them are maddening. It is a must-see because the creators and cast have put all their heart, enormous talent and sincerity of purpose to bring this very important and thoughtful musical to the stage. It's also extremely funny! That may sound incongruous. The audience reaction throughout and standing ovation when I attended, however, makes me feel I am not alone in celebrating their accomplishment.
Part of the success is due to the leads' fantastic work. Erik Hogan is Dubya. His strut, mean-spirited "heh-heh" laugh, fake Texas accent, and frat-boy smirk all add up to a spot-on portrayal of our president. Dubya (that's the character's name), has not heard from God since He told him to invade Iraq. "You don't call, you don't write..." he says, on bended knee looking skyward. Dubya also wants to ensure his legacy or as he instructs Dick, (John Stillwaggon), the VP, "I wanna go out lookin' gooood!" Stillwaggon shows a side of Cheney beyond caricature to something more terrifying: a man with no doubts about his country's right to rule the world and no shame in profiting from it.
As Saddamn, a Saddam double who's been the one actually running Iraq since the real despot died in 1999, Paul Sadlik is both suave and hilarious. When Dubya comes to him with a deal to restore order in Iraq by reinstating him to power, he agrees only if the musical he's written can be produced on Broadway. This is partly based in truth. Saddam Hussein had written a play, "Zabibah and The King," which was to be turned into a musical in Iraq. And then there is the off-Broadway run of Saddam! The Musical, a few years back. That is gently poked fun of in the song, "Did They Really Write A Musical Called Saddamn?" and "Saddamn's Song" ("He's an Iraqi who's wacky / In a mustache wearing khakis").
Meanwhile, Cindy, based on the activist Cindy Sheehan and played by the glorious-voiced Amber Carson, is outside the Crawford Ranch trying to get the question, "What did my son die for?" answered. She sings "A Nation Rocked To Sleep" with lyrics by Cindy Sheehan's daughter, Carly Sheehan. Knowing that song was written by Specialist Casey Sheehan's sister while listening to it was very moving.
But it is Carla Euphrates Kelly, as Condi, who, out of a truly excellent cast, deserves special praise. Along with her wonderful singing voice, dance skills and stage presence, Kelly also displays great nuance and depth in endowing her character with more compassion than I am afraid the person upon whom its based may deserve.
The ensemble, Apphia Cambell, Maggie Glasman, Momo Kajiwara, Michael Ruocco, Dana Iannuzzi, Dustin Cross, and Rashad Webb all play multiple characters, from reporters to Iraqi civilians, with commitment and humor.
The book, music, and lyrics, all by Mitch Kess except for "Collateral Damage" written by him and Charles Bascombe II, is a mix of musical genres, perfect for suiting each character's personality and intentions. No two songs sound alike. J. Michaels, the director, does an amazing job of keeping the pace up and the humor at the forefront, despite the subject matter. I cannot recommend The Deciders enough.
This show is dedicated to both Specialist Casey Sheehan and Sgt. Clarence LaVon Floyd, the brother of Carla Euphrates Kelly, killed December 10, 2005 in Taji, Iraq.