Tuesday, January 19, 2010

I cannot stop laughing... "Obama-Mia"

Political commentary on the Obama presidency aside, this is hilarious:
"Hope—The Obama Musical Story" premiered here Sunday evening. One is tempted to end the review right there. Seriously, isn't the oeuvre's title and premature timing commentary enough? Sure, the U.S. president has been (favorably) compared to God but even Jesus Christ had to wait nearly 2,000 years before he became a Superstar.
With polls showing that most Americans now realize they are being (mis)led by a mere mortal, it is no coincidence that this production had its debut in Germany. Here the president's messiah status (remember the 200,000 worshipers at his 2008 Berlin speech?) is still accepted dogma and helped fill the Jahrhunderthalle, a 2,000-seat venue.

"In no way does Hope show Obama as a saint," the musical's organizers say on their Web site. And truly, as the mostly American cast tells, through song and dance, the story of Mr. Obama's rise from a Chicago community organizer to the White House, we learn of the president's human imperfections—or at least one: "He's an idealist," the Mrs. Obama character says with a hint of disapproval. Despite this serious character flaw, the ensemble sings upon his election: "Celebrate! Celebrate! Around the world every nation celebrate."

Sen. Harry Reid will probably be pleased to learn that the actor playing Mr. Obama is sufficiently "light skinned" to portray the president and did not sing with any discernable "Negro accent." And, always a plus for an actor as well as a president, he was able to perform without a teleprompter. He got to sing numbers like "Yes We Can," and "Look Without Hands," which I first thought was a commentary on the president's foreign and economic policies but turned out to be a eulogy to his grandmother.

Much of the material was taken from stump speeches, but there was also a lot of "original" writing. Take the romantic highlight of the show, when Barack woos Michelle in a love duet. "I think we fit together like a hand inside a glove—I know this is no ordinary kind of love." One would HOPE that even Mr. Obama's speech writers could have rhymed better than this.

In one cliffhanger, Michelle is stricken by self-doubt—I guess that's what they mean by "artistic freedom." Without spoiling too much of the plot, Michelle's mother manages to reassure her that she has what it takes to be a First Lady. "You were chosen for this time . . . walk in your glory. Think like a queen, for you are royalty."

Of course no story is complete with just a hero, even if he is of the über variety. And so enter the villains: drug dealers in Mr. Obama's community organizing days and, in more recent times—you've guessed it—Republicans. In his solo, Sen. John McCain challenges Mr. Obama with lines like: "See you in November, and I'm the Great Defender." Personally, I prefer the real maverick's performance, Sen. McCain's unforgettable rendition of that old Beach Boy song, "Bomb Iran."

Strangely, Mr. McCain was played by a German, hence his introduction of Sarah Palin as his "Runny mate." Mrs. Palin, by the way, whose solo was bizarrely accompanied by scantily clad dancers in gothic outfits, was played by the same actress also standing in as Hillary Clinton—a subtle hint to the president, perhaps, not to trust his secretary of state.

In what the writer probably thought was a clever plot construction, a parallel story line centers on the residents of a "typical" Chicago neighborhood hit by unemployment, foreclosures and the war. The pre-Obama era is "Chaos!" as the first song reminds us. Among the assorted stereotypes is the unemployed Ricardo, sporting one of the worst Puerto Rican accents in the history of show business; the Obama-supporting African-American Johnson family; and your archetypical Republican: an elderly woman of German background who doesn't think much of "colored" people. But, with the Obama spirit already healing the planet, the German bigot and Mr. Johnson declare in a heart-warming duet after the elections: "We can be friends." Yes, we can.

When the Johnsons learn that their son has gone missing in Iraq, they are consoled by none other than Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Perhaps the news about the good Reverend's tragic accident with the campaign bus didn't make it to Germany. Thankfully, neither did any of his anti-American sermons. Instead, the Wright character gets to sing a couple of soaring gospels, promising "Everything will be all right, all right, he'll make it all right."

And so He did. No sooner has Mr. Obama been elected than the Johnsons learn their missing son is alive and that the war will probably soon be over. Call it the inauguration miracle...

The musical's American composer and lyricist, Randall Hutchins, who lives in Germany, says his show is not "political." Right, but only in the sense that Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will" was just a documentary. The audience's standing ovation at the end was probably as ideologically overdetermined as my trashing of this hagiography."

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