The folks behind “Clinton: The Musical” are said to have invited the former first couple to attend a performance of what is coyly called a spoof of their eight years in the White House. Note to the box office: They’re not likely to show up at the will call window.
Nor, for that matter, are Newt Gingrich or Dick Morris, Monica Lewinsky or Kenneth Starr. Especially Kenneth Starr.
Written by Paul and Michael Hodge, brothers from Australia, “Clinton” was first presented at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe two years ago and then had a run in London. Now part of the New York Musical Theater Festival, the show reduces the Clinton years to a stew of sex farce and hypocrisy, in keeping with the timeworn theme that politics is just show business for ugly people.
“Clinton: The Musical” is an equal-opportunity defamer: The president is both policy-driven technocrat and sax-playing hound dog, so conflicted that he’s portrayed by two actors; the first lady is a pants-suited force of her own, a senator in waiting. (Al Gore is a cardboard cutout, literally.) Even before they fight to save their legacy after the president’s affair with an amorous Monica, they must battle a power-mad Newt, a kinky Ken and a complicit, salacious press.
Retelling the story of the scandals that swamped the administration, “Clinton” resurrects an awful lot of that dignity-free era: Whitewater and Paula Jones, Contract With America, the government shutdown, cigars and stained dresses. There’s even the macarena. About the only shout-outs missing are to Mr. Morris’s toe fetish and William Rehnquist’simpeachment robe. If your idea of an evening that is pleasant “depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is,” then this show provides a fine time. Karl Kenzler as WJ the statesman and Duke LaFoon as Billy the party animal are quite good. Alet Taylor wrestles the tougher, more layered role of Hillary to a draw. Adam Arian’s direction is smooth, the singing uniformly strong and the lyrics, in songs like “Sexual Relations” and “No,” often clever. Even if the music isn’t memorable, at least there are no Fleetwood Mac singalongs. But the humor is relentlessly low, with Monica under a desk and Ken in studded leather straps and black fishnet undies.
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