This hilarious parody musical looks back on Bill’s presidency while reaching toward Hillary’s.
Photos by Russ Rowland
It's 1993, and the Clinton clan has just taken over the Oval Office. There's Hillary, the true powerhouse behind the operation, and then in a strange twist of fate, two Bills. William Jefferson Clinton is the earnest, straight-talking lawmaker who really wants to do his best for his country, while Billy Clinton's charm and charisma are the only things that can get him there. And Hillary is the only one who can see them both at the same time.
This odd conceit is only the beginning for the wacky parody musical. As forward-thinking (to Clinton 2016, among other things) as it is nostalgic, Clinton the Musical reduces a complicated political climate into a standard musical plot with heroes, villains and oblivious comic relief characters that are recognizable and easy to relate to even if you weren't following politics in the '90s. And while the show certainly doesn't glorify the Democratic Party, its demonization of the Republicans and empathetic treatment of the Clintons is right on time for a Hillary presidential run.
There are two main conflicts in Clinton the Musical. One is between the Clintons and the House Republicans, led by a younger (but still ravenous) Newt Gingrich and the fabulously dastardly mastermind Kenneth Starr. Under Starr's guidance and motivated by quite a few edible bribes, Gingrich stalls out Congress, embroils the president in scandal after scandal and, when their moment arises, takes the testimony of a young, naive Monica Lewinsky and uses it to bring Clinton to the brink of disaster. Hiding out in a delightfully designed Congressional sub-basement filled with crates of pictures of Ronald Reagan, these schemers will do anything to bring Hillary, WJ and Billy down.
But in the Oval Office, an even more bitter rivalry is brewing as the threesome attempts to figure out how to successfully run the country. As first the charming but unreliable version, then the honest but unconvincing Bill is exiled from the presidency, an interesting moral quandary appears. Is each responsible for the actions of his other half? And what does it mean that each character sees only the version of Bill they want to see, while the other simply vanishes into the background?
Add in an energetic and horrifyingly unstoppable chorus of newscasters, an exuberant and easily fooled Monica Lewinsky and a puppet Socks the cat, and we've got all the ingredients for a fascinating production. And the sides are even neatly laid out for us in the costumes, in a simple color scheme of red vs. blue.
Despite its unusual central conceit, Clinton is in many ways a very traditional musical, with nearly every scene leading into a musical number, full cast dance breaks and musical tags to lead into the next scene. This setup, of course, only highlights the truly out-there elements of the show, from its fantastic use of cardboard cutout Congressmen to its catchy but extremely inappropriate songs. Whether you come out of the theater singing "Sexual Relations" or the demurely titled "Monica's Song" (recurring refrain: "I'm fucking the fucking president"), you will certainly be in for some odd looks out on the street.
The acting in this play is not particularly complex, but the performers do a good job holding the satirical world together. Kerry Butler as Hilary's voracious, bold ambition is one of the highlights of the show, as is her absurd and constantly misunderstood relationship with the talking painting of Eleanor Roosevelt (Judy Gold) in the Oval Office. Tom Galantich as the good WJ Clinton is earnest without being boring, while Duke Lafoon as the sexy Billy Clinton toes the line between confidence and whininess expertly.
Kevin Zak (Kenneth Starr), John Tracy Egan (Newt Gingrich) and Veronica J. Kuehn (Monica Lewinsky), meanwhile, all give excellent caricature performances, bringing politics to life by endowing its historical villains with hilarity. Clinton the Musical is a silly fun time for all involved, and will leave you with a smile on your face throughout.
So, fifteen years later, what is the Clinton legacy? A golden era of economic prosperity and a budget surplus, or "I did not have sexual relations with that woman"? With this musical, you can cast your own vote on that one.
Clinton the Musical plays at New World Stages through September.
This article was previously published on CHARGED.fm.