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April 9, 2015
Review: Clinton the Musical
Clinton the Musical. Photo credit: Russ Rowland.
Clinton the Musical. Photo credit: Russ Rowland.

In the same vein as the 2010 musical satire Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, New World Stages' Clinton the Musical takes one of America's most controversial presidential terms and adds singing and dancing to exaggerated caricatures of historical figures. History never looked so hilarious.

As it's safe to presume that everyone in the audience was alive during the Clinton administration, the story of those eight years needs no introduction, yet the musical's book manages to tell a fresh interpretation. The character of the president is split into two separate people with opposing personalities, à la Fight Club, with William Jefferson Clinton (Tom Galantich) acting as the cool-headed and respectable man he was in office, while Billy Clinton (Duke Lafoon) represents the wilder, thrill-seeking side of the man. In the middle of them is Hillary (Kerry Butler), who is trying to keep the administration from going under all while thinly-veiling her own presidential ambitions, consulting with the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt (Judy Gold) when situations seem most dire. Hillary is the only character who can see both Clintons at the same time and it falls upon her to keep them from destroying the administration, and each other.

Outside of the Oval Office we meet the villains of the piece, childish glutton Newt Gingrich (John Treacy Egan) and master manipulator Kenneth Starr (Kevin Zak), a real Pinky and the Brain-esque duo attempting to halt the progress of the Clinton administration by any means necessary. After the Whitewater scandal fails to do any long-term damage, Gingrich and Starr finally find their endgame piece in the infamous Monica Lewinsky (Veronica J. Kuehn). As the villains work their magic, a chorus of news reporters prances on and off the stage to worsen every situation for our heroes the Clintons.

The music of the show by Paul Hodge is big and loud and soars high, in proper American fashion, with witty lyrics and '90s nostalgia scattered throughout the songs. The book by Paul and Michael Hodge manages to condense the administration's years into a well-paced and entertaining ride that doesn't go for shocking twists or turns but instead focuses on how the characters get to where they're going and how they get out of the jams they find themselves in. An important part of the show's humor relies on certain characters being at certain places at certain times onstage, and Tony-nominated director Dan Knechtges has choreographed these moves with the precision of a gifted visionary.

Clinton the Musical. Photo credit: Russ Rowland.
Clinton the Musical. Photo credit: Russ Rowland.

Leading the colorful and energetic cast is Tony-nominated actress Kerry Butler (Broadway's Catch Me If You Can and Hairspray), who absolutely nails the personality and quirks of our beloved Hillary. Her voice is as impressive as ever, particularly in the number "Both Ways." Galantich and Lafoon as the two Bills play off each other as if the men really have been fighting a lifelong grudge match. Galantich's straight stance and proper speech against Lafoon's slouching redneck makes for some sidesplitting confrontations. Egan's Newt Gingrich is entertaining as the bumbling, half-witted pawn in Starr's grand scheme, but it is Starr himself and actor Kevin Zak who steals every scene he's in. Zak's vampiric approach to the scheming lawyer creates an otherworldly villain who hisses and stalks around the stage; he also possesses a soaring set of pipes, put to good use in his solo number "A Starr is Born." The nine-person cast as a whole is a truly talented and entertaining group.

Sure to be a hit with '90s nostalgics, the humor of Clinton the Musical will no doubt pull millennials in as well. It is a hysterical and toe-tapping romp through a recent time in history, and this reviewer feels the show is destined for Broadway.

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