You’ve seen them at rallies. You’ve seen them at demonstrations. Now you can catch that most theatrical of protest groups, the Billionaires for Bush, in a place both unlikely and inevitable—a theater. Through April 15, the Billionaire Follies, the performing wing of the organization, is presenting Spring Bling!, a weekly satirical revue at the Ace of Clubs.
If there’s a heaven for Yippies, right now an angel named Abbie Hoffman has a big smile on his face. The Billionaires are his foremost stepchildren, as savvy as they are hilarious in their public demonstrations, tailored to draw media and public attention to the twin disasters of Bush’s defense and social policies. Their performances are the stuff of cartoons: every Billionaire some variation on Thurston Howell III or Lovey, decked out in tuxedos and evening gowns, golf clubs and martini glasses in hand, to remind the most apathetic citizenry in history that their leaders really don’t care about them.
The Billionaires started turning up around the turn of the millennium at WTO and World Economic Forum protests in Seattle and New York, and during the 2000 election (when they were known—innocently, in retrospect—as Billionaires for Bush and Gore). In 2004, with a war on and the stakes higher than ever before, the group’s membership and visibility escalated geometrically in the hoopla surrounding the ill-conceived Republican National Convention in New York. Since then, the streets have been quieter, but that doesn’t mean the Billionaires have gone away.
Now that we are between elections, the Follies are one of the organization’s more visible arms. Composed of equal parts professional performers and enthusiastic amateurs, the feisty troupe presents political comedy sketches and song parodies at fundraisers and rallies. Following the 2004 election, they presented a show called Dick Cheney’s Holiday Spectacular. The 2005 incarnation at the Ace of Clubs was such a hit that the venue asked them back, and thus was the current extravaganza born.
For a group famous for taking their shenanigans out to public spaces, it would seem to be a reversal of strategy to make the public come to them. But Billionaires national co-chair Elissa Jiji (a/k/a Meg A. Bucks) says, “Our job is to catch them wherever they are. We can also help to politicize people who just like funny satire—not everyone who comes will already be an activist. And an important part of our mission has always been to help fight despair. No brand ever wanted to lose its brand identity more than Billionaires for Bush.”
Melody Bates (a/k/a Ivy League-Legacy), artistic director of the Billionaire Follies and national co-chair, concurs: “There is a sense of reward and productiveness in what we do. I love the way people feel excited and not downtrodden at the end of our performances. That’s when it feels really successful.”
To lighten the hearts of progressives and energize the fence-sitters, the Billionaires have put together a revue featuring the Halliburton Dancers (led by choreographer DJ MacDonald, a/k/a Seamus Lee Rich), sketches starring host George W. Bush (played by David Bennett, a/k/a Robin N. Steelin), and a dozen or so songs, like the hilarious “The Real Dick Cheney,” based on Eminem’s “Slim Shady,” devised and delivered by Mark Silverman (a/k/a Doctor DeBooks). Audiences get to play games like “Pin the Brain on the President” and “Target Practice With Dick Cheney.”
Spring Bling! is a labor of love on the part of its all-volunteer cast, which ranges from pros like the show’s director, Mahayana Landowne (a/k/a Bella De Ball), to a lawyer and a math professor. Like the proverbial musical in a barn, it is the product of donated rehearsal space, hand-me-down costumes, and a goofy dream. And the best part is audiences can sleep soundly knowing the admission price is going to a good cause—the Billionaires.