We Love You, Johnny Hero
nytheatre.com review by Matt Freeman
August 13, 2006
In this musical We Love You, Johnny Hero, President Johnny Hero (a briefly seen Jason Lopez) is accused of moving slightly to the left by his sinister Vice President (Kaolin Bass), and is then unceremoniously replaced by a "new" Johnny Hero (Matthew Porter). This puppet pretender promptly orders the bombing of the "entire Middle East." Only ace reporter Jeannie McGraw (Sara Wolski) realizes the nation has been hoodwinked though; she has "intimate" knowledge of the President. Wink, wink.
The plot flies forward, without much of a rudder. We learn that the government is corrupt and murderous. We meet Jeannie's oil tycoon husband, Slick (Gregory Allan Bock), portrayed as a hillbilly with misguided interest in Jeannie's well-being. In the second act, we meet a gaggle of "Hipsters," led by Malcolm Y (Noah DeBiase), who kidnap Jeannie in order to, you know, revolt, man. Eventually, Jeannie takes a wrong turn and winds up with the Poor (Capital "P") and is transformed into a true revolutionary...or so it seems.
The music by Chris Shimojima doesn't have much in the way of a hook, but there are a few pop ballads that I thought came off well ("I Dream of an America," "The Perfect American Lady"). Of the performers, DeBiase seems the most confident and in voice. Wolski, in the lead, is a capable, though young, performer, who struggles uphill with the inconsistencies of her role. Jeannie McGraw, as a character, is almost entirely reactionary, naive, and sexualized. I'd love to see what Wolski could do in a role that is more ultimately rewarding.
The music and performances may be uneven, but We Love You, Johnny Hero is hobbled mostly by its muddled politics. I kept asking distracting questions, wondering what librettist/lyricist/director Sara Cooper was after. If, under the first Johnny Hero, the government is ordering the killing of homosexuals, why should we weep if another leader takes his place? If Big Oil seemingly pulls the strings of our real government, why is Big Oil portrayed as beholden to the government and somehow tragic? If our actual foreign policy seems dictated by our economic entanglements with the Middle East, to what end would even the most idiotic government bomb the "entire" Middle East? (All the oil fields? Even Israel?) What sort of journalist is turned revolutionary by the concept of poverty? (For that matter, what sort of journalist with "integrity" would marry Big Oil, have sex with the President, and then fall in love with her kidnapper?) Why would a white kid who dresses like Alex from A Clockwork Orange (and refers to himself as a terrorist) go by the unfortunate name of Malcolm Y? In a send-up of contemporary culture, these questions are only natural from the audience, and Cooper doesn't provide the answers.
From her book and lyrics of We Love You, Johnny Hero one could ascertain that Sara Cooper sees something very wrong with the United States. It is not clear, though, that she understands exactly what is wrong with the state of international and political affairs, which makes her musical a superficial affair, intermittently aided by a few enthusiastic performers.