It took more than 200 years after Alexander Hamilton’s death for a hit musical to elevate his legacy for new generations. Today, only children under ten have no memory of Barack Obama as president. Yet, he’s already the subject of an adoring musical tribute.
Too soon? No, just in time.
44: The Unofficial, Unsanctioned Obama Musical redefines nostalgia for a particular audience, those who pine for a time less than a decade ago. They wistfully recall that relative blink-of-an-eye-ago age, when Barack and Michelle danced at the White House and healthcare for all was a common goal.
It’s not like we’re talking ancient times, but this rousing, clever, musical, sure makes it feel like a contemporary Camelot. Writer/director Eli Bauman, with a little help from his dad, Sha Na Na’s Jon “Bowzer” Bauman, has written a loving elegy that would bring a tear to any Democrat’s eye, especially during the week of midterms expected to throw even more mist over the Obama era.
Of course, all protagonists need their antagonists and Obama had many. Bauman mines Fox News and the GOP in songs like “Bull**** Factory,” “Filibusters,” “Gay for the N.R.A.” and “F*** “You, Ted Cruz.” Oh yes, there is a point of view, as well as a trucker’s vocabulary. The name of 45 is not mentioned, but there’s a brief reference to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner that many believe spurred his run for the presidency.
Every song sounds like a hit. It’s not traditional show tunes, it’s pop and R&B that are familiar yet fresh. T.J. Wilkins as Barack and Shanice as Michelle more than do justice to the material, especially the ballads they share, like the sultry “White House Love.” Their exceptional voices and stage presence make the material shine.
The 10 other performers are also talented and give their all—like Kelly Dorney belting out “My Turn” as Hillary Clinton. In particular, Ted Cruz (Michael Uribes), Mitch McConnell (Larry Cedar) and Sarah Palin (Jane Papageorge) bring the crazy and the laughs. Herman Cain (Dino Shorté) has a key role as a token member of W.H.A.M. (White Heterosexual Affluent Men) and brief presidential candidate.
John Boehner (Kevin Bailey) cries repeatedly, especially while singing his theme song “Just a Boner.” Lindsey Graham (Jeff Sumner) minces around the stage. Roger Ailes (Ted Barton) is appropriately repulsive.
Joe Biden (the charming Chad Doreck) narrates the action and tries to be useful to Barack. Voice of the People Kitten Kuroi has some great moments as a one-woman Greek chorus.
All are backed by the immensely talented House of Vibe, led by Anthony “Brew” Brewster, performing as the Andrew Jackson Five. The storyline is familiar, but the hilarious book and lyrics and the great music give this political retrospective originality, pizazz and a rosy glow.
44’s venue is the Bourbon Room, up a flight from Hollywood Boulevard. With a full bar, it’s perfect for a show that might tend to drive the audience—whether wistful lefties or insulted right wingers—to drink. Despite the many LOL moments, there’s a cloud hanging over the ending, an undefined darkness that just might be the looming midterms.
44: The Unofficial, Unsanctioned Obama Musical is having a limited run at the Bourbon Room, 6356 Hollywood Boulevard near Cahuenga through Nov. 15. Only five performances remain; see calendar here. Showtime is 7:30 and doors open at 6:30. Tickets are $25-45 plus a minimum of two food and/or drink items and can be purchased here. Street parking is very limited, but there are a couple of lots within a block and a valet option ($22) on the corner.