Witty Musical Reels in Obie Audience
I’m not sure if I just really didn’t know what to expect, or if I had been blinded into prejudice by too many mediocre obscure musicals in high school. But last Friday night, ReelPolitik: The Musical kept me smiling until my mouth felt like I had been posing for a picture for the full two and a half hours that the play ran.
Written by College senior Charlie Sohne with music by Conservatory sophomore Cale Plute, the musical was based on events during the birth of the Reagan administration. The play had a rather ingenious premise: Ronald Reagan (College sophomore Kevin Moss) and his wife, Nancy (College senior Rachel Jacobs), are conned into running for President and First Lady by a well-intentioned but fumbling Jesus Christ (College sophomore Kevin Carr). Considering running for president himself, Jesus is told by his focus group (College junior Sarah Degni, College senior Lauren Miller and College first-year Claire Whitman) that he wouldn’t stand a chance. So they hire Reagan, an actor, to play the part. Reagan believes that he is acting in a movie.
The plot continues through many complications and quirks, involving steamy romances between many of the characters. Reagan has an affair with aspiring journalist Mr. Clark (Conservatory sophomore Tom Fosnocht), and even Jesus finds himself in bed with a married woman. The apron-clad focus group keeps the whole production together with its strong will and power to spin politicians to the top.
To add to the chaos, characters burst into song whenever they feel strongly about one particular point. A few of my favorite tunes had lyrics such as: “You can’t have fun when you’re the son of a virgin,” performed by Jesus Christ, and “Even a girl from the religious right worships kind of different when you turn out the light,” performed by none other than the sex-bot version of Ann Coulter (junior Amanda Caggiano).
The musical thoroughly exploited the audience’s knowledge of real events by exaggerating and fictionalizing this period in history. It took no sides. Not only is Reagan portrayed as a clueless pawn, but Jimmy Carter (College sophomore Alex Huntsberger) appears in the second act as a crazed lunatic wearing only bib overalls and a beat-up straw hat.
Other characters’ costumes were also worthy of note. Jesus wore an ensemble that I can only describe as toga-chic. He was dressed in a skirt made of dress-pant material and a one-sleeved button down shirt with “JC” displayed prominently on the pocket and a tie bordering the part of the shirt that was missing. On his head was a fedora with a thorny crown and a cross. Similarly comic was Reagan’s outfit. He was dressed as a cowboy, complete with two tiny handguns stuck haphazardly in his belt. On a quite different note, Ann Coulter was dressed as sex, sometimes only outfitted in a pinstriped bra and a skirt with slits that ran so high it nearly negated its own existence.
The production, however, did have a few distracting technical glitches. A video projection that displayed relevant clips from both actual and fabricated TV ads never quite hit the screen on which it was intended to appear. Similarly, sometimes the actors’ movements of the set mid-scene put a hole in the action.
The performers’ vocal talents were fine, if not stellar; however, I fail to see how this matters, as the group was not intended to stand and sing arias. They fulfilled their roles with great gusto and most of them were able to keep remarkably straight faces through even the most comic of scenes.
The band that performed the musical acts, consisting of College sophomore Ian Axness on piano, who also served as musical director, College junior Nate Levin on bass, Conservatory first-year Alex Chaloff on drums and Conservatory junior Kerry Kallberg on guitar, did not suffer any major mistakes, and its size allowed it to fill the intimate Little Theater with a pop-meets-Broadway sound without destroying the audience’s ears.
The production was both a pleasant surprise and a definite triumph on the part of the musical’s writer, Sohne, whose use of irony and ability to not only push, but to destroy boundaries, made the show.