A Play in a Day

I got another piece of hate mail the other day -- this one from some sniffy playwright whose musical I'd recently panned. Mr. How Dare You ended his pissy missive (which, as usual, was filled with reasons I should be murdered in my sleep) with, "I'd like to see you write a musical!"

I'd sooner choke to death on my own vomit than write a play of any kind, but Pissy's letter got me to thinking: Could I? If so, what would I write about?

Inspired by the recent presidential election, I began imagining a musical comedy about the reelection and second term of George W. Bush. Bush! The Musical (you saw that coming, I hope) would star Mandy Patinkin as the 43rd President of the United States, and Tovah Feldshuh as his opponent, John Kerry. My story would be typical musical-theater fare: Set mostly on golf courses and in Kennebunkport, it would tell the tale of a wealthy Texas family whose newborn son is accidentally switched at birth with a baby baboon from the local petting zoo. The tiny ape grows up and, in a big, noisy opening number called "Primate Candidate," becomes president of the United States.

Act One would be devoted entirely to the tuneful shenanigans of an ape in office: In "It's Hard Work," George could sing about the travails of running a country and of learning the difference between Iraq and Iran; in "My Pet Goat," he could pine for his birth family and friends back at the zoo. And in "You Say Osama, I Say Saddam-a (Let's Blow the Whole World Up)," a duet with childhood bully Michael Moore (Bruce Vilanch), a bratty militant who used to taunt George through the bars of his cage when they were young, our hero does a tap solo and then declares war on the wrong country.

My first act would conclude with George singing "Don't Cry for Me, Condoleezza" (sample lyric: "Don't cry for me, Condoleezza/The truth is I never liked you/You are a Negro/Also a woman/Just do my bidding/And keep your distance") while hundreds of thousands of Central Casting "foreigners" are slaughtered in the name of greed and vanity. Act Two might open with a dirge called "Concession!", in which Senator Kerry bemoans having overestimated the intelligence of the American people; followed by "Oh, Ohio!", a swing number sung by Bush and a chorus of aging, homophobic hillbillies. A finale called "Let the Healing Begin," in which tuxedoed homosexual men and women are murdered execution style on a church altar, might be a nice windup, especially if I could convince Actors Equity to let me kill real live actors at each performance.

I even went so far as to imagine the reviews that Bush! might receive from my fellow critics. "Mean-spirited and sadistic, full of unlikable, power-mad characters with murder on their minds," Chris Curcio might write. "Borrowed melodies and a story of violence and repression that's better left untold," Chris Paige would probably opine. And then someone wise, like Frank Rich or John Simon, would collect a paycheck for stating the obvious: "Implausible story; impossible events. None of this could ever have happened."

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela