You're Welcome America. A Final Night with George W Bush
nytheatre.com review by Martin Denton
February 11, 2009
Will Ferrell's You're Welcome America. A Final Night with George W Bush is 80 minutes of Saturday Night Live-style parody. For the Will Ferrell fans in the crowd I was with last night—and there were lots of them—the show appeared to deliver just what was desired.
This is, essentially, a long standup comedy set with lots of theatrical extras. There's a sturdy set by Eugene Lee (who also designs SNL) that features a length of wooden fence (for the segment set at the Crawford ranch), a big presidential desk and chair (standing in for the Oval Office), and a table upon which rests a bright red telephone, to which reference is made at various moments during the evening. There are nonstop video projections (by Lisa Cuscuna and Chris Cronin) that include a whimsically dancing Presidential Seal and lots of footage—some authentic, some made-up—of which the already most notorious is an alleged photo of the Presidential Penis. Tom Broecker has supplied lots of costumes, dressing up Ferrell-as-Bush in the manner of a life-sized Ken Doll: in his standard-issue blue suit, in his cowboy togs, in the famous made-to-order bomber jacket, and so on. Theatrical special effects mainstay Flying by Foy has even gotten into the act, crafting a nifty initial entrance for Ferrell from the rafters.
Four cast members in addition to Ferrell serve, more or less, as living props. Patrick Ferrell (who, IMDB tells us, is the star's brother) plays a Secret Service Agent named Jerry, who stands guard most of the time, and then occasionally cuts loose during the transitions between scenes. Pia Glenn plays Condoleezza Rice, or a fairly insulting frat boy idea of her—the joke in her segment is that she dances a sexy pas-de-deux with the president to a recording of Michael McDonald's "I Keep Forgetting." Michael Delaney has an unexpected cameo as a guy named Dr. Scott Blumeth and Adam Mucci is a Pilot.
But these four actors ultimately figure only slightly in the proceedings: this is Will Ferrell's show, from start to finish. He holds his audience well. I thought he was at his best in the loosest sections of the show, responding to the crowd, or—in one rather silly segment—affecting an exaggerated but decidedly non-Bush-like Spanish accent to do a riff on Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Near the end of the show, the house lights go up so that Ferrell's Bush can talk to audience members one-on-one and give some of them a nickname. (A guy in the front who said he worked in finance got the moniker "Shit Out of Luck," for example.)
Mostly, Ferrell delivers big helpings of his Bush caricature, of course. The trouble is that this creation is really more suited for soundbytes than for a longform comedy show, and "W" started to wear on me before the first hour had passed. Some of the material is pretty funny: there's an invocation at the start of the show that is particularly witty, and where Ferrell the writer lets himself takes flights of fancy—a story of Cheney performing a Satanic rite in the White House basement, for example, or a family anecdote in which Barbara Bush saves the day in startling fashion—he genuinely surprises us. But much of what's here is stuff we've seen before, and the frat-boy coarseness of the tone (the penis joke is repeated three times) is not satirical but simply a stylistic choice.
In the end, though, the crowd didn't seem to mind that a lot of the jokes have been played and replayed throughout the last eight years. Indeed there seemed to be a kind of affirming release in being able, when Ferrell-as-Bush asked the audience "Am I the worst President in American history?", to applaud and whoop and holler in the affirmative. It's only been a few weeks, but we're all more than ready to have a good laugh at the just-departed administration.