REVIEW: Rod Blagojevich Superstar (2nd City at Metropolis)

           

Blago spoof still funny, if more painful

 

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The Second City presents
 
Rod Blagojevich Superstar
 
Book by Ed Furman, songs by T.J. Shanoff
Directed by Matt Hovde
Metropolis Performing Arts Centre, 111 W. Campbell, Arlington Heights (map)
Through Sept. 18  | 
Tickets: $28.50–$33.50  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

The jury’s still out on the Rod Blagojevich trial, but the verdict on Rod Blagojevich Superstar is "guilty."

No one yukking it up it in the audience at The Second City’s remount of their clever 2009 hit, now at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre in Arlington Heights, could have had any doubt that the whole silly story of our big-haired, big headed, impeached governor is all too painfully true.

Blago4 Blago and Company are much funnier than our previous crooked gubernatorial band, poor old George Ryan and his Inept GOP Grafters, who barely caught any comedy coverage at all, but their antics have been so over the top that it takes some doing to turn them into bigger buffoons than they made themselves.

The mini-musical doesn’t provide any answers to important questions like, "How come we keep electing such losers?" but confines itself to chronicling the career of the not-too-bright, Serbian-American "scrapper" from the Northwest Side who gets a party-school law degree, meets and marries the foul-mouthed daughter of a powerful Chicago alderman and rides the well-greased Illinois machine all the way to the top.

Joey Bland — in a remarkable wig — and Lori McClain ably reprise their roles as those already larger-than-life characters, Rod and Patti Blagojevich, supported by Dunbar Dicks doubling as Patti’s now-estranged dad, Ald. Dick Mell (D-33rd), and U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald; Lauren Dowden as Ill. Attorney General Lisa Madigan; and John Hildreth in a hilariously restrained take on now-Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.).

Even as parodies go, this is no great musical. The best song is the opening nod to "Jesus Christ Superstar," which asks, "Are you as nuts as we think you are?" Other numbers take off on tunes from such musicals as "Godspell," "Pippin" and "The Wiz," but the music just supports the japes. None of the cast are notable singers, but they belt out the lampooning lyrics clearly enough for comedy’s sake. "Pay to Play" might just as well be the official state song.

Laughable as it is to those who’ve been following along, you do need some state-of-Illinois savvy to get all the jokes. If the name "Tony Rezko" means nothing to you, you might have to do some homework before the show. On the other hand, if you’re hep to the whole Blago megillah, you’ve heard a lot of these jokes before. They’re still funny, but I can’t help but think that this revival is a bit like beating a dead donkey.

 

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When "Superstar" premiered last year, Blagojevich himself appeared onstage to open the show. There’s just no way they can top that.

The play has not been changed to reflect any current events, so the cast has added on some post-show improv games in which the audience can ask "Rod" questions and suggest additional "crimes" he might have committed (as if 24 counts weren’t enough!). Like all such shticks, it’s only as good as the audience’s idea, which on opening night wasn’t very. Even with the extras, it’s all over in about an hour and a quarter. So much for our first Democratic governor in 30 years. You have to laugh. Or cry.

      
     
Rating: ★★★
    
    

Note: As educational as this might be for the kids, the language is extremely uncensored.

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REVIEW: Rush Limbaugh! The Musical (Second City)

It Ain’t Over ‘Til the Fat Pundit Sings

 RUSH- LtoR- Kevin Sciretta, Karla Beard, Colleen Murray, Mar

Second City e.t.c. presents

Rush Limbaugh! The Musical

book by Ed Furman
music/lyrics by
TJ Shanoff
directed by
Matt Hovde
through March 24th (more info)

review by Keith Ecker

RUSH- LtoR- Colleen Murray, MArk Sutton, Cayne Collier, Bump There’s an irony in juxtaposing Rush—the arena rock trio of Canadians who helped forge the musical genre known as progressive rock—with Rush Limbaugh—the overzealous, portly megalomaniac who helped forge the political movement known as neo-conservatism. This is the kind of sharp wit and pop-culture referencing that Second City’s newest play, Rush Limbaugh! The Musical, relies upon to penetrate through the mess that is today’s political landscape.

And just what is the topography of this landscape? Politicians and pundits have made careers out of capitalizing on fear, hate and anger. Religion is in the pocket of the self-proclaimed righteous who corrupt and manipulate their follower’s belief systems for their own gain. The two-party system gives voters a choice of crap and diet crap. All these are themes found in Rush Limbaugh, which at its greatest moments steps out from behind its satirical shield to reveal a genuinely pissed-off group of performers.

The musical focuses on the rise of Rush Limbaugh (Mark Sutton), from his humble beginnings as a rich hippie-hating nitwit in the 1960s to the mouthpiece for the evangelical Christian conservative movement.

RUSH-LtoR- Karla Beard, Mark SuttonOur tour guide on this journey is a woman with a Caribbean accent named Shasta (Karla L. Beard). She punctuates the play with parodies of Rush songs about Rush Limbaugh. While Rush is still young and floundering, Reverend Rightwing (Cayne Collier) steps in to help give the budding radio star a boost. The two forge a mutually beneficial relationship where Rush will use his own brand of Christian lunacy to win new converts to his radio show. Soon Rush becomes a voice to be reckoned with, successfully helping take down Bill Clinton. It is then that he’s on top of the world, ushering in a new Republican world order with the election of George W. Bush.

Donald Rumsfeld (also played by Collier) and Karl Rove (Bumper Carroll) make appearances as a bumbling Abbott and Costello duo while evil Anne Coulter (Colleen Murray) lurks in the shadows. There’s also a subplot involving Hillary Clinton (Murray) and Barney Frank (Kevin Sciretta), who serve as the weak, impotent voice of the left.

The acting is superb. Mark Sutton can muster up a vicious growl and a penetrating scowl on command. When he performs the on-air scenes in the makeshift radio booth, he really captures the despicable glee that the real Rush infuses into his racist diatribes, such as “How do you starve a black man? You hide his food stamps under his work boots.” But despite how wicked Sutton’s Rush might come off, you can’t resist watching him.

The supporting cast is rock solid. Beard has a voice on her that shines on the parody of the Dreamgirls tune “And I’m Telling You,” in which her character tells Rush that she’ll stay by his side even after the neo-conservative movement begins to lose steam. Murray successfully pulls off double duty as the weasely Anne Coulter and the manic Hillary Clinton, while Sciretta does a dead-on Barney Frank impression.

Overall, the writing (care of Ed Furman who also wrote Rod Blagojevich Superstar!) is strong. However, there are some terrible groaners that fall flat near the top of the play. The biggest flaw, though, are the Barney Frank lines, which amount to boring and trite homophobic comedy. It was strange to see these childish references to gay sex in a show that otherwise believed in the intelligence of the audience.

RUSH-LtoR- Cayne Collier, Mark Sutton, Collen Murray, Bumper RUSH-LtoR- Kevin Sciretta, Mark Sutton, Colleen Murray
RUSH- LtoR- Cayne Collier, Kevin Sciretta, Bumper Carroll, M RUSH- LtoR- Karla Beard, Kevin Sciretta, Colleen Murray, Mar

TJ Shanoff, who also worked on Rod Blagojevich Superstar!, wrote the music and lyrics, which are outstanding. From the Democrats shouting in punk rock fashion about how “fucked” their party is to Rush singing the praises of Oxycontin, the songs are deeply funny and veer away from obvious rhyme schemes that would normally spoil the joke.

Rush Limbaugh! The Musical is a political treatise told through musical comedy. Despite some base material that would be better left out of the play, you’ll find a lot of smart jokes to laugh at…unless you’re a Republican, in which case you might have been better off seeing the Rod Blagojevich production.

Rating: ★★★

Rush Limbaugh! The Musical at The Second City e.t.c. (1608 North Wells in Piper’s Alley, Chicago). previews Sunday, January 31, 2010 at 2:00pm, opening on Wednesday, February 3, 2010 at 8:30pm and will run Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8:30pm and Sundays at 2:00pm until March 24, 2010 at The Second City e.t.c.

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‘Rod Blagojevich Superstar’ moving to Chicago Shakespeare

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Following a sold out run at Second City e.t.c., the popular comedy review “Rod Blagojevich Superstarwill be playing a limited engagement Chicago Shakes on Navy Pier.  The Navy Pier version has been updated with new sketches and music to include recent Blago happenings, such as his 6-figure book deal and Roland Burris’ son (and, as the Blago drama proceeds, so will Second City’s improv show!).  After each performance, the famed improv theatre troupe will improvise a 20-minute political comedy set based on audience suggestions.

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Superstar has book by Ed Furman, music and lyrics by T.J. Shanoff and direction by Matt Hovde. The cast includes Joey Bland as Rod Blagojvich, Mike Bradecich as Richard Mell/Pat Fitzgerald, Lauren Dowden as Lisa Madigan, Lori McClain as Patti Blagojevich and Sam Richardson as Senator Roland Burris.

According to Second City notes,

“Politics and parody take center stage Upstairs at Chicago Shakespeare with the Second City’s rollicking musical parody of the rise and fall of ex-Governor Rod Blagojevich. A faux tribute to the man who compares himself to Gandhi, King and Mandela, Rod Blagojevich Superstar presents the story of the former governor in the style of a ’70s rock musical. Jesus and Mary Magdalene have been replaced by Rod and Patti Blagojevich, with appearances by Alderman Dick Mell, Attorney General Lisa Madigan, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald and Senator Roland Burris. The jury is still out on Blagojevich, but of the five other Illinois governors who have been charged with crimes, three have done time.”

More info at ChicagoShakes.com.

Rave reviews after the fold.

See video preview of the show here.

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Jumping on the Blago bandwagon

blago Second City (and its TV spin-off “Saturday Night Live“) has always capitalized on current events, but it’s amazing that Second City was able to create an entire show, songs and all, in just a few wekks..  This super-funny and super-successful troupe birthed the show “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” – and when the first skit’s opening with the lyrics are:

“Rod Blagojevich Superstar, are you as nuts as we think you are?”,

you know you’re in for an evening of knee-capping and wise-cracking fun, all courtesy of our state’s coo-coo ex-governor.   

Created by Ed Furman (book writer) and T.J. Shanoff (music/lyrics), …Superstar has immediately fostered some great reviews.   For info and tickets, click here.