A public service, an Irish wake, and a joyous hosing-down of the American turdscape, the Triad Theatre’s brisk, broad parody show Me the People finds Off-Broadway musical-theater satirists soldiering on with a mission that history has shown will never lose its urgency: assailing powerful hypocrites in song. The show’s all wicked impressions and spoofs of standards, offering Mike Pence (Mitchel Kawash) boasting, to the tune of “Orange Colored Sky,” “I can make a gay man straight!” and Jared (Richard Spitaletta) and Ivanka (Mia Weinberger) hoofing it to “Good Morning,” proclaiming their love of public service while making out with bags of money.
Every complaint you might have about the buffoonish wannabe autocrat and his administration gets belted to the rafters, often with wit and always with a familiar tune and principled razzle-dazzle. Such a show is by nature hit or miss (I’m unconvinced that “Stop! In the Name of Love” stands as the most promising source for a sketch about the likelihood of Roe v. Wade getting overturned), but if the current gag doesn’t hit you, the next one’s always incoming and quite likely on target. A rundown of the president’s Russian connections — delivered, of course, in song by a Russkie (Spitaletta again) in a trench coat — plays like a month’s worth of Maddow monologues fast-forwarded, and the best of the lyrics unite outrage with the outrageous. I confess to spitting out my drink when a rewritten “Be True to Your School” rhymed “DeVos” with “Christian madrass’.”
It’s also dangerous to drink anytime Weinberger is about to open her mouth. Like the Trump women she’s playing, the gutsy dynamo turns on a dime between the roles of daughter and wife, charting in Ivanka and Melania precise gradations of haughty shallowness: Her Ivanka is to Trump Tower born, a serene grifter confident that there’s a generation of working mothers who believe that buying goods she’s endorsed will contribute to their empowerment. Her Melania, meanwhile, squints up as she tries to remember her scripted blather condemning boulies and their boulying — it’s touchingly hard for her to maintain the illusion of family dignity when she doesn’t believe it herself.
Occasionally, the material is rote or thin, but two inspired choices distinguish the show. First, nobody portrays the president himself, which is the one thing here that would probably anger him. This Trump-shaped void frees the creators (Nancy Holson wrote the book and lyrics; Jay Falzone directed and served as choreographer) to survey the wide waste of his presidency and its dangers without getting distracted, as so much TV satire does, by his trollish bluster, those utterances that play like the public expression of his anal glands. Instead, we get a lulu of a sketch about Paul Ryan goading the House GOP into stripping healthcare from millions, and a downsized Lady Liberty (Aiesha Dukes) turning up at a piano joint to croon “Nice Work If You Can Get It.” (The work: “Greeting huddled masses/Yearning to be free…”)
The second surprise: The show’s not a wallow in news you might prefer to escape from. It’s a triumph over it, a proudly indecent bleat for decency, the marriage of pop hits and Trump slams a defiant reminder that none of us are alone in our disgust. The climax, a profane singalong I won’t spoil, is all jubilant catharsis, audience and cast answering Trump’s obscenity with one of our own. If the right wing gets a whiff of it, they’ll try to make it into a scandal, the latest case of New York elitists going too far — an irony, of course, as we’re trying to hold their Fifth Avenue Fauntleroy accountable. This is the first show I’ve ever adored that I hope has cause to close very soon.
Me the People
The Triad Theatre
158 West 72nd Street
Through September 2
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 26, 2017