The Beastly Bombing
nytheatre.com review by Loren Noveck
October 2, 2007
Trying to describe The Beastly Bombing ends up sounding sort of like the lead-off to a fairly offensive joke: So, two white supremacists and two Al Qaeda members all want to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge... So, Jesus and the president are singing a song together... So these two pill-popping debutantes get arrested... So all these terrorists find themselves in a Chasidic Jewish clothing store... So, a priest and a cop walk into a jail cell...
And, yes, it must be said that a great deal of The Beastly Bombing (whose full title, The Secret Order of Revolutionary Operettists presents The Beastly Bombing or a Terrible Tale of Terrorists Tamed by the Tangles of True Love, is the first tip off that we're in a world of tongue-in-cheek Gilbert and Sullivan) is indeed fairly offensive, if you can manage to stop laughing long enough to notice. But it's such an equal opportunity offender—making equally gleeful fun of white supremacists, Al Qaeda, pedophile priests, the NYPD, the president, the president's family, Saudi Arabia, sorority girls, Chasidic Jews, and various other government officials and minor, forgotten terrorists—and is performed with such gusto and sincerity, to such a cheery and absurdly authentic operetta score (by Roger Neill; the inordinately clever and hilarious lyrics are by Julien Nitzberg, who also directed), that it's definitely more fun to sit back and enjoy the ride.
Just to take an example: the play begins with the two aforementioned white supremacists (Patrick, and his sidekick, "Sensitive White Supremacist"—yes, that's one of the songs—Frank) organizing their materials to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge. Since this is an operetta, of course they do this in song: a cheery little number called "A Delightful Little Bomb," whose chorus goes like this: "A delightful little bomb / With a fine and lovely fuse / Will quietly with great aplomb / Help propagate our views." And if you stripped out the lyrics, the music really could come straight from The Pirates of Penzance or some other period piece—which makes the songs all the funnier.
The song is shortly thereafter reprised by Abdul and Khalid, two al Qaeda bombers with the same plan in mind—to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge in service of their ideology. As it turns out, the skinheads and the Arab fundamentalists have a great deal in common, ideologically speaking, and they join forces to escape the police—which involves their all disguising themselves as Chasidic Jews, in which garb they remain for most of the remainder of the play. They all then end up thrown in a jail cell with the aforementioned pill-popping debutantes (who turn out to be the president's daughters, on the lam from rehab)—and a series of unlikely romances ensues, including a gay marriage between two of the terrorists. (There's this priest in the cell with them, see, and they're all on ecstasy at the time, so a big group wedding seems like a grand old idea at the time.)
And then someone else actually succeeds in blowing up the Brooklyn Bridge, and the president and his team of national security advisers get involved. Some of the musical numbers written and choreographed for the president are the most joyously absurd (like "I Am the Bravest President," the president's hymn to himself, or "My Savior Did Appear," in which President Dodgeson is, literally, visited by Jesus and they do a little waltz). The jokes at the president's expense are a little more familiar and substantially less daring than the level of satire elsewhere in the play—but the musical numbers go a long way toward making up for that (in addition to the two mentioned above, there's a perfectly rhymed number called "The House of Saud," about how the Saudis can't possibly be terrorists because they're super guys, as well as the climactic "Zog Has Lost"—that would be the "Zionist Occupation Government," sworn enemy to the skinheads and al Qaeda alike).
The production, even in this bare-bones festival setting, is as clever and as well-thought-out as the music. The ensemble in general is terrific—strong singing voices all round, flair and precision in the choreography, and total commitment to their characters. No matter how utterly, ridiculously implausible the plot gets, the actors sell it. My heart was won early by Jacob Sidney's Patrick—a soulful skinhead with a gorgeous singing voice, whose passion for blowing stuff up is only surpassed by his genuinely sweet and romantic passion for Abdul—and Aaron Matijasic's earnestly bumbling Frank. Director Nitzberg incorporates the whole theatre space into his staging—scenes take place in the aisles, actors hide from the police in the audience, and a cast of 11 somehow feels like multitudes. And Kevin Remington's choreography is as charming and incongruously funny (and verging on impossibly offensive—a burqa-clad chorus line in "The House of Saud," for example) as the rest of the show.
There's a very, very fine line here between having the audience rolling in the aisles and cringing under their seats—and "The Morals of Society," the pedophilic priest's big number, may in fact go far enough to stick a toe over that line. But for the most part, Nitzberg and Neill manage to keep their show firmly planted on the line, to brilliant effect. A musical about terrorism may be a hard sell in these troubling times—but don't let that scare you away.