The few U.S. commentators who bothered to note the recent election in England marveled at the level of attack sustained in the run-up weeks by Prime Minister Tony Blair -- and not just in print. While George Bush's handlers make sure that anyone who disagrees with the president in the slightest -- or who, like the Denver trio recently evicted from his taxpayer-sponsored town hall meeting, may be intending to disagree -- is never allowed in his presence, Blair has had to defend his honesty and integrity again and again in public forums. I'd say he has little to work with, but his defense is mounted with quickness and authority.
Political satire in the U.S. is generally as toothless as political debate (and I'm not talking about the simple-minded ranting that fills airwaves and commentary columns). While English satirists take on the powerful, their American counterparts often focus on celebrities, sports figures and other easy hits. Newsical, playing at the New Denver Civic, is bright, clever and fun, with catchy song rhythms, witty lyrics and very talented performers, but it has absolutely no edge. How much guts and originality does it take to beat up on Michael Jackson and demonize Martha Stewart -- particularly with fat targets like John Bolton and Tom DeLay wandering the public arena? But the producers plan to make money in both red and blue states, of course, and we all know how tetchy everyone is about politics these days. So here's a song about Botox, and another about a family addicted to prescription drugs. Here are three loopy, drooly guys who lose their fear of flying by booking with Hooters Air. (All the dumb-white-guy skits cleverly play both sides of the feminist fence. The characters get to slaver over jiggly tits, whine about the problems of being male and white and bemoan the miseries of marriage like the old Borscht-circuit comics of fifty years ago -- but it's hip and okay because, see, these are really, really stooopid men. So while half the audience finds the jokes funny, the other half sneers at the jokers, and everyone's happy.)
In fairness, several of the skits and songs are enjoyable. "W. Rides Again" features the drunken Bush girls celebrating their dad's election victory. A trio of old ladies trills about the joys of being felt up at the airport. There's a hilarious imitation of Arnold Schwarzenegger by Drew Frady and another of the new pope, wearing stylish lederhosen. And I must admit that the Martha Stewart musical is very well done and very funny.
Under the deft direction of Donna Drake, all four performers combine good voices with real comic ability. Scott Foster uses his all-American looks to high comic effect; Elizabeth Rose keeps the straightest of faces during the Botox number; Drew Frady has a rubbery physique and a great voice. Genevieve Baer is an amazing mimic, capturing exactly Paris Hilton's dopey languor and Martha Stewart's professional smile. In a passionate song about love online, Baer manages to be repellently needy, sweetly touching and incredibly funny all at once.
Newsical is a taste tantalizer rather than a meal. Think of it as a tray of hors d'oeuvre, couple it with a few of glasses of wine, and -- if you don't mind the $35 ticket price -- it makes for a light, mildly pleasant evening out.
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