A Political Party!
nytheatre.com review by Kimberly Wadsworth
May 21, 2008
Satire is difficult to write well; political satire more so, musical satire even more. Creating a show that combines all three anew on a weekly basis? Many would find it nigh-impossible. But many do make the attempt—Saturday Night Live and South Park, for example, and Jon Stewart even does so daily. To this roster, we may now add the cast and crew behind A Political Party!, a sketch comedy revue promising to present a new show skewering news events each week. Still, the size of the challenge even causes the greats to stumble, and the crew behind A Political Party! also falters.
The troupe is affable enough—three men and two women moving in and out of newscaster roles, segueing into posing as political figures, religious leaders, sports stars, and even PETA members, on the night I went. A number of the acts featured songs by music director Steven McCasland, with the troupe accompanied by a pianist sporting an Uncle Sam hat. One or two cast members did bobble lines slightly, but if the cast gets a new script each week, that's an extremely forgivable gaffe.
The show's weak spot seems to be that script itself. The creators are clearly trying—it's just that the sheer size of the task may be too great. Some sketches did stand out: I did get a good chuckle out of a bit involving Jay Leno being used as an instrument of torture, for example. Nick Kanellis, who does a very good Jay Leno impersonation, also was in another amusing number, set in the Oval Office at the close of Bush's administration, where Kaneillis's Dick Cheney sings a gloriously sentimental duet with George Bush called "You'll Always Have A High Approval With Me."
However, the quality of the sketches seems to be hit-or-miss. All too often, it seems, the sketches rely on one-note, simplistic jokes— "Ha! George W. Bush is dumb, so let's have him misspeak words!" "Ho! Dick Cheney has a bad heart so let's show him having a heart attack!" "Hee-hee! The Pope is German, so let's have him act like a Nazi!" The sketches also deviate from political topics very quickly, which was a bit puzzling as the show opens and closes with a tightly choreographed, flag-waving, confetti-throwing musical number declaring this to be an evening of political comedy.
But the hit-or-miss nature of the program may also be a reflection of the writing staff itself—or the lack thereof. No writers were credited in the program I received, and at the instruction of the crew, I consulted the show's web site and still didn't see a writing staff listed. Instead, there is an ad soliciting sketches and songs from freelance writers. So there doesn't seem to be a writing staff at present—a surprising move for a revue in a genre where good writing is absolutely essential.
It's an entertaining enough evening, but satire lives and dies by how it is written, and to rise above the pack you need a good core writing team. I'd remind the producers that every politician hires a really good speech writer before they hit the campaign trail, and I'd urge them to consider doing the same before their approval rating hits a downswing.