Let’s Hear It for Bill and Hillary

Culture Watch
tags: theater reviews, Clinton the Musical

Bruce Chadwick lectures on history and film at Rutgers University in New Jersey. He also teaches writing at New Jersey City University. He holds his PhD from Rutgers and was a former editor for the New York Daily News. Mr. Chadwick can be reached at bchadwick@njcu.edu.

The Clintons have always been around and look as if they always will be – like the Mississippi River and the Grand Canyon. We all know their story. We know all about Bill and Hillary and Chelsea and Monica and...ooopps!

If you want to really get a good laugh at the expense of William Jefferson Clinton and his wife Hillary, who could be our next President, see Clinton: the Musical, that just opened Off Broadway at the New World Stages in New York. It is a hoot. It is uproarious, a brilliant and rousing story of the Arkansas Ramblers.

Feel their pain.

We all know the tale. It starts when Bill Clinton, saxophone and all, is elected President in 1992. He takes office and runs into trouble with the Republicans, who shut down the government on him, Bill then cobbles together a working majority of both parties and makes the big comeback. He got himself re-elected, country boy charm still intact, and then there was Monica. Well, there were allegedly other women, too, but it is Monica who holds our attention.

In the highly original and terribly clever Clinton: The Musical, Paul Hodge and Michael Hodge present the 42d President as a double character. One is the pious, Rhodes Scholarly and very serious President determined to keep peace in the world. right all wrongs at home and balance the budget, too. The other is the naughty boy Bill, the high school prankster, the Presidential Peck’s Bad Boy. He charges o to the stage with his sax, wavy hair falling down over his forehead, big smile on his impish face and in a big hurry to find as much trouble as possible. He does, too.

Hillary is married to both of them and constantly tries to balance one off against the other, while at the same time, according to the writers, praying that she can someday be elected Chief Executive herself. They trudge through the Clinton story, highlights and awfully large lowlights. Trouble never stuck to Bill Clinton. He was, as the joke went, able to drive through a car wash in a convertible with the top down and not get wet. He charmed, he cajoled, he pleaded, he smiled and he waved. It worked.

And, politics aside, he kept us out of unpopular foreign wars and balanced the budget.

This is not a traditional musical. It is more of an elaborate sketch, a wonderful parody.

What makes the show so successful is the tongue in cheek, and tongue often out of cheek, humor. Bad Bill cavorts happily with Monica, denies all and gets away with it. Good Bill succeeds in foreign and domestic policy. The two Bills do battle with Kenneth Starr, a wonderfully crafted punk rock character played brilliantly by Kevin Zak, Starr fraternizes happily with the pushy and dim-witted Newt Gingrich and a host of Congressmen, Senators and reporters.

Poor Hillary (given a really masterful look by the highly talented Kerry Butler) is dragged through it all, assured by Bill, supported by Bill and lied to by Bill. Why does she stay with him? “Country!” wails Eleanor Roosevelt, who leaps off a wall painting to give advice (her own husband philandered his way through four terms).

We see the Clinton scandals, such as Whitewater (what was that, anyway?) and Monica. Poor old Al Gore is kept out of the play entirely, as if he did not exist. Other Clinton women pop up, such as Paula Jones. The other one, blonde -- what’s her name anyway -- is kept off stage.

All of the songs in the play, written by Paul Hodge, are forgettable but they do help to underscore the two Bills and their personalities. The direction by Dan Knechtges is sharp and helps to create this disarming portrait of Bill Clinton.

The two Bills are played nicely by Tom Galantich (good Bill) and Duke Lafoon (naughty Bill). Other fine performances in this zany musical are by Judy Gold (Eleanor Roosevelt), John Treacy Egan (Gingrich) and Veronica J. Kuehn, as Monica (yes, she is wearing the infamous blue dress).

Clinton: the Musical is a marvelous comic romp and you know that if Hillary is elected President there will be a sequel.

And Bill? He is seen here as we have seen him for more than twenty years --- the good old rascal we can’t help but love (or hate).

PRODUCTION: The play is produced by Ken Davenport, Kari Lynn Hearn, Grey Gum Productions, others. Sets: Beowulf Boritt, Costumes: David C. Woolard, Lighting: Paul Miller, Sound: Peter Fitzgerald. The show is directed by Dan Knechtges. The play runs through September 6.

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