With the news often seeming like a parody of itself, the reaction is more an impulse to cry than to laugh. Fortunately, now there’s “NEWSical, the Musical,” a charming, ripped-from-the-headlines review that skewers the foibles of political figures, the news media, and the culture at large.
The satire is often broad and predictable, but in the constantly changing show, with book, music, and lyrics by Rick Crom, it can also be subtly pointed. A piece on Nancy Pelosi’s botox usage, for instance, might seem superficial and almost too easy, but it goes to the heart of the way women in politics are scrutinized over their appearance and even discredited if they fall short. So the House speaker’s botox use can potentially resonate more strongly in public perceptions than her efforts on health care reform. Crom is never heavy-handed but rather gleefully subversive.
“NEWSical” is a spot-on satire of current events
Crom aims his daggers at both sides of the aisle. Two of the sharpest pieces in the 90-minute show involve the ways in which Barack Obama has backpedaled on his campaign promise of “Yes we can!” with the refrain “but not just yet.” Sarah Palin comes off as an aggressive self-promoter, which worked nicely in the week she became a Fox News contributor. There are also jabs at John McCain and Hillary Clinton that mostly score the intended laughs.
One of the best pieces in the show is a number about Sonia Sotomayor, a Motown-inspired ditty that celebrates everything coming her way now that she’s a Supreme.
The show also looks to the culture for inspiration. A piece on “Balloon Boy” is a spot-on send-up of the news media’s obsession with anything of the moment and its preference for sensationalism over facts. Nancy Grace comes in for a hilarious skewering as she takes on the shocking case of one Ms. White, discovered in a coma and imprisoned by seven height-challenged men.
Crom’s witty words and tunes are only part of what makes this work. The four members of the cast are all very solid, delivering good impressions –– aided by David Kaley’s costumes — and singing well. Christine Pedi, a veteran of “Forbidden Broadway” and a formidable cabaret performer, is excellent as Sotomayor and others, and she even gets a chance to do her famous Liza Minnelli impression. Admittedly, it seems shoehorned into the show, but what the heck, she’s great.
Michael West, another “Forbidden Broadway” veteran, is at home with this sort of material. Rory O’Malley, making his off-Broadway debut, is funny and incisive, with great timing. His turn and costume as Balloon Boy Falcon Heene are terrific, as is his Monty Python-esque Susan Boyle. At the performance I saw, Amy Griffin stood in for Christina Bianco, and she did a great job, particularly as Palin.
Mark Waldrop’s direction is fast-paced and fun, and the show breezes by pleasurably.
The rueful laughs that often attend watching CNN, Fox, or even the old-line broadcast networks are transformed into belly laughs at the ridiculous spectacle of so much of what passes for news in our culture. But the final song, “Denial,” is both outrageously funny and harrowing in suggesting we are so obsessed with Balloon Boy that we’re missing the major debates, such as health care, and allowing other critical issues, say, gay rights, to be shunted aside completely.
The show changes regularly as the latest sensations hit the news. “NEWSical” won’t solve the world’s problems, but it’s great to take time to laugh at it all and comforting to know that someone else — much more clever than we — sees the insanity and gets it.
NEWSICAL THE MUSICAL
47th Street Theatre
304 W. 47th St.
Fri., Sat., Mon.-Wed. at 8 p.m.
Sun. at 7:30; Wed., Sat. at 2 p.m.