Clinton: The Musical
Reviewed by Cicely Binford
Ain’t politics grand? It’s “show business for ugly people,” say the Hodge Brothers, in one of the first of their many cutting observations in Clinton: The Musical. Michael and Paul Hodge, two Australian brothers who have a soft spot for one of America’s most powerful power couples, Bill and Hillary Clinton, have created a monstrously good satire about their first round as co-Presidents. Black Swan State Theatre Company brings the show back to Australian shores under the direction of Adam Mitchell.
Clinton takes an irreverent but fond look at the Clinton presidency through a non-stop cavalcade of gags, puns, pratfalls, wigs, songs, and sexual innuendo. It’s raunchy, inappropriate, and silly in all the best ways, but it’s the Hodge’s clever conceit of the dual characters of WJ and Billy that moves it to the next level to the sublimely ridiculous. It enables a much more complex interpretation of historical events, and introduces much more in terms of comedic potential.
This fairly simple idea is executed quite convincingly with the help of the two actors playing the yin and yang of Clinton’s psyche: Simon Burke as WJ, the one with the moral compass, and Matt Dyktynski as Billy, the one with the moral compass that he just doesn’t use. Burke physically resembles the real Clinton more closely, and has adopted a few of his classic mannerisms, but Dyktynski (what a coincidence his name is in this context!) embodies the classic bad boy that lies within. They get equal stage time which they also share with the real President, I mean, star of the show: Hillary.
Hillary Clinton is a wonder woman in a pantsuit played by the unstoppable Lisa Adam. She’s got tremendous, scene-stealing, fearless energy, and by golly if she doesn’t make you want to vote for her version of Hil by the end. She’s full of heart and conviction with a generous helping of wacky on the side. Designer Bruce McKinven has given her a rainbow array of the aforementioned pantsuit and an ugly white pair of character shoes to complete her daggy business mom look.
The support cast is stellar. Fresh out of WAAPA, Megan Kozak earns and owns her place among the old pros as Monica Lewinsky (and others). Clare Moore plays half a dozen characters from Linda Tripp to Callista Bisek to Eleanor Roosevelt all with considerable verve. Luke Hewitt is the forever-hungry Newt Gingrich, who plays the dimwitted puppet to Brendan Hanson‘s villainous puppet master, Kenneth Starr. These two push their performances well into pantomime territory; but the way they’re written it would be hard not to, and surprisingly, it works. Hanson is more outrageous and hilarious here than I’ve ever seen him; his Starr is Born number is a riot. And don’t get me started on Luke Hewitt’s peaches.
McKinven’s set design threatens to upstage the whole spectacular thing, what with its three-tiered rotating capitol dome that houses the band, a couple of secret passages, a crew member and an actor or two. The red, white and blue-striped drops and lights designed by Mark Howett might be considered garish if they weren’t so darn patriotic. Musical director David Young and his musicians must get motion sickness, sitting in the spinning top, but they keep it together enough to drive the tunes forward.
Director Adam Mitchell has made this funny material even funnier, but he’s also found its heart. And even though the show might’ve just barely slid into home plate by opening night after an unfinished preview or two, the main thing is: they scored. *wink*
Clinton: The Musical runs until September 11. For more information and tickets, visit the Black Swan website here.