‘Clinton – the Musical’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by September 2, 2016

‘Clinton – the Musical’ was penned by the Australian writing duo, Paul Hodge and Michael Hodge. The Australian Premiere of this fast-moving, energy packed and madcap musical satire is being presented by the Black Swan State Theatre Company, in association with the Perth Theatre Trust, as part of the Winter Arts Festival 2016. The musical comes straight from New York, London and Edinburgh, where it was nominated for ‘Best New Musical’ and ‘Best Book’. The script is right up to date.

Brisbane-based barrister, Michael Hodge, wrote the book with his brother, Paul Hodge, who also composed the music and wrote the lyrics. Paul has a PhD in musical composition, and has also gained Brisbane’s prestigious ‘Young and Emerging Artist Fellowship’ and numerous other international awards.

This bright and effervescent 2-hour show can be seen at the Heath Ledger Theatre in Northbridge nightly at 7.30 until 11th September.

 

The scene is a magnificent representation of the exterior of the White House, complete with majestic central white dome and flag pole (Set and Costume Designer, Bruce McKinven). The musicians are positioned on the top deck, in a ‘bandstand’ just under the cupola. Sensibly, the drums (Michael Perkins) were enclosed in a Perspex area, allowing a superb balance of the instruments. The Musical Director and keyboard player was David Young, with guitarist Jonathan Fernandes and bass player Andrew Weir. Thanks to clever orchestration (Neil Douglas Reilly), the effect was that of a large band.

As the stage revolves, we see the podium for public announcements. The stage wings’ legs and backdrop are in red, white and blue. This theme by Scenic Artist, Marek Syzler, has been picked up and continued by the Lighting Designer, Mark Howett, and used to great effect.

It is rare to have the audience applaud the set, but at the opening this well admired set earned a big round of applause.

 

       The proscenium grand drape is a figurative American flag; it rises to reveal Hillary Clinton (Lisa Adam, looking amazingly like the lady herself) inside the White House’s Oval Office. Hillary makes it clear that she is the person in power, and goes on to tell us the story behind her husband’s mayhem as President.

     The President enters the office, and everyone around sees him as one; but because of his parallel lives, he is portrayed by two very different characters who talk to each other. There is the clear-headed leader, in a smart suit – W.J. Clinton (Simon Burke) and the wild, leather dressed, irresponsible philanderer – Billy Clinton (Matt Dyktynski).

     The country is buoyant and politics running smoothly. The Press however – agitated by Clinton’s nemesis, Newt Gingrich (Luke Hewitt), Speaker of the House – try to create debasing news. They drag up the ‘Whitewater Scandal’, a real estate investment of the Clintons that collapsed with little actual humiliation to them. Gingrich, still determined to shame Clinton engaged Kenneth Starr (Brendan Hanson), an independent counsel who lusts after men in power.

     WJ asks his ever-faithful wife, Hillary, for her advice and unexpectedly receives wise words from the ghost of Eleanor Roosevelt (Clare Moore), the wife of Franklin D. Roosevelt, President during World War 2.

     One day, into the Oval Office came Monica Lewinsky (Megan Kozak), a White House intern. New ‘meat’ for the philandering Clinton?

     There follows attempts at Impeachment and a legal battle, but who will win? Will Bill Clinton leave the post with worthwhile reforms in place? What is Hillary doing in the background?

 

Director Adam Mitchell is at his best with a musical, but here he gives us something extra special. With a cast of seven performers playing more than a dozen parts, the action moved at jet speed. With the astounding quality of the actors, and their immense versatility, we are soon fooled into thinking that there is a huge cast.

Choreographer, Claudia Alessi, being completely in tune with the uproarious comedy had the cast moving with hilarity. Lisa Adam as Hillary was wild and energetic and her interpretation of ‘Brew It for Your Country’ was dazzling.

Another highlight was Brendan Hanson as Ken Starr, who brought the house down with his rendition of a gay in heat singing ‘Starr Is Born’.

Jenny Edwards’ costumes ranged from the numerous, bright pastel outfits of Hillary to the semi-bondage, ‘cheeky’ ensemble of Ken Starr. Immaculately finished by wardrobe assistants Gail Reading, Elizabeth Buckland and Louise Arcus.

You keep expecting the story to tactfully smudge the details, but this brave musical just gets the boot in, and gives the audience the most fun in a long time. The audience split their sides with Megan Kozak’s execution of ‘Monica’s Song’, as Monica gloated on her conquest by celebrating in song with untamed actions – brilliant.

The lively and interesting sound design was by Ben Collins. There were about a couple of dozen songs with hysterical lyrics, but as the actors wore headsets the words were crystal clear.

A poor American accent can grate and annoy, however Voice Coach, Julia Moody, had the whole cast speaking in the same modest accent. The cast even managed to change this slightly with the multiple characters that they played.

Stage Manager, Claudia Blagaich and her assistant Stage Manager, Rhianne Perrie were dressed in smart black suits and moved in and out of the action moving lecterns, chairs and other props.

There are plays where the acting can be outstanding, the singing melodic and the dancing inventive. There are shows that give the audience a good laugh and you leave the theatre with a smile; but rarely do you get all the features combined in one production. This musical is just one of these rarities. A MUST see show.

Standing ovations are quite infrequent these days, but this production truly deserved theirs.