Of Thee I Sing
Book by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind
Music by George Gershwin
Lyrics by Ira Gershwin
Directed by Mark Brotherton
Musical Direction by Chris Endsley
Starring Kyle Laing, Jennifer Totcky, Joseph Edward Herr
Politics never changes; it’s just that new crooks appear from time to time. Tonight, we find ourselves in a post Hoover time warp where Alaska is a state but we have still to fight WW2. “The Party” has nominated John P. Wintergreen (Herr) as their man for the White House, but they need a platform to stand him upon. Ideas fly by but the one that sticks is “Love.” Wintergreen will run on a policy of Love and his Bobby Bitman-influenced campaign manager Fulton (Laing) will round up each state’s most beautiful gal and pick the best. If Wintergreen wins, they marry on Inauguration Day and if he loses? Who cares. We have been governed under worst conditions. Along for the ride is un-noticed VP Alexander Throttlebottom (Kent Collins). Nobody remembers his name and no one tells him his job is to run the Senate. He is very, very happy with all this. The winning girl is bombshell Diane Devereaux (Katie Whitmore), but Wintergreen is having nothing of her – he’s fallen for his assistant Mary Turner (Totcky). This takes us to inauguration where Deveraux claims breach of promise. Soon we have an international incident and a very silly French Ambassador (Mikey Reichert) threatens war with the United States. Today, that seems totally plausible.
The politics are as cartoonish as CNN, but this IS a Gershwin Brothers piece that won the Pulitzer Prize. The duplicity and sheer lack of respect make this a funny piece even if you don’t get the plot point that prohibition is still in effect yet everyone carries a hip flask. Herr has the preppy good looks to win and hold office, Whittemore is clearly the American Ideal circa 1932, and while Laing overplays his role, its a choice that pays off: innocent Collins is sweet and harmless and draws his laughs from the traditional low esteem Veeps hold. As FDR’s second in command John Nance famously remarked: “The Vice Presidency isn’t worth a bucket of warm piss.” Yet, Throttlebottom appears to fall short of even that low standard. The main Va-Va-Voom factor here comes from Whitmore in her flattering red swim suit. When you first meet her, you think: “Woman scorned. Beware!” and Mr. President fails on that count. Musically, the songs are all well staged and sung, but only “Love Is Sweeping the Country” sticks in my mind for its melody while “Posterity is Just Around the Corner” gets points for its non-sequitur title.
There’s tons of energy here; all the dance numbers are attacked like the D-Day landing. A clever moving thrust stage pulls and pushes the action along as color changing columns indicate mood and time. A few references here and there allude to the current administration, but the parallels lie more in the broad strokes of politics more than today’s headline. Heck, even the American Flag shirt contingent stuck around for the second act. If that’s not cross aisle bipartisanship, I haven’t seen it. And no, I haven’t seen any for many a year. Go for the dance, the acting, the music and the set along with the privilege to see an important but rarely produced classic executed with grace and style.
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