Review: Clinton The Musical
Presenter: Black Swan State Theatre Company
By Rhys Tarling
Clinton The Musical posits that there are two Bill Clintons: one is a sax-playing scoundrel who bears a resemblance to Tom Cruise’s Maverick (Matt Dyktynski), and the other is a level headed presidential man who ushered in a near unparalleled era of economic prosperity and stability (Simon Burke). It’s a trite and easy notion, but in the context of a show where the only criteria for each ditty or scene seems to be “Will the audience find this delightful?” it’s fitting. And, for the most part, Clinton The Musical will be found by the audience to be a delightful time.
The inherent delight is fuelled by an exceedingly well-told story that expertly masks its lack of insightful commentary with a sharp witted script and exuberant musical numbers (Monica’s Song is easily the catchiest. In fact I’m humming it as I’m writing this). The conceit that there are two Bill Clintons adds a hefty dose of comedy in the right places – presidential Bill Clinton catches scoundrel Bill Clinton receiving a blow job from Monica Lewinsky, hilarious! – but it’s Lisa Adam who walks away with Clinton The Musical with her turn as a cunning and complex Hillary Clinton. She’s given some of the wackiest of wacky material, with one scene casually revealing that she’s an actual witch, another of her breaking the fourth wall, and then another of her screaming “I have an erection!” But then you reach the point in the story where she finds out that her husband cheated on her, and Lisa Adam brings it down to earth without breaking the cartoony tone. It’s a terrific performance.
It’s too bad that the performances weren’t terrific across the board. Brenden Hanson and Luke Hewitt are a couple of players in Capitol Hill who attempt to block Clinton’s proposals. They’re the opposition, the villains if you will. They’re undoubtedly reminiscent of the bad guys from the Adam West Batman television show except not funny and incongruent with the rest of the characters here who have one foot in the absurd and one foot in the real; with these two there is only the absurd, there is only the ridiculous. Some members of the audience reacted uproariously to their scenes, so they made a specific choice that will work for some. But I must confess that I was bewildered and confused by what they were doing.
The set design by Bruce McKinven is a marvel, even by the standards of a Black Swan production. The set is a revolving and convincing replica of the White House, with the dome containing the band and the bottom depicting the main action at the president’s office. Not only does it all look great, but it keeps a welcome distance between the musicians and the actors too. The trade-off is that the set is so gargantuan that it doesn’t allow for much dynamic choreography. But for something that’s as resplendent as this replica White House? I, along with most everyone else, will take it. Although, the lighting was sadly a little inconsistent. The colours were appropriate (red, white, and blue. What else?) yet they saturated the stage at seemingly random times – sometimes it was appropriate for enhancing the mood of the scene, sometimes it was an unmotivated eye-sore.
Clinton The Musical isn’t as artistically coherent as previous Black Swan productions, yet it’s the most fun you’re likely to have at the theatre. If you approach it on its terms as a gaudy and bawdy show and not as a scathing indictment on Capitol Hill, there is much here to revel in.
Clinton The Musical will be showing at the Heath Ledger Theatre until September 11.