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Bush Is Bad: The Musical Cure for the Blue-State Blues

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

A more clever title for Bush is Bad might be Forbidden Beltway. Even if composer Joshua Rosenblum doesn't aspire to be the next Gerard Alessandrini, he knows how to write a show (with original music) that, through the satirical tone and the barbed arrows it flings at its chosen targets, nonetheless make it a spiritual cousin to Forbidden Broadway.

Still, who needs a clever title when you've got truth in advertising? No one can have any doubt what they'll get from a trip to the Triad, and thus no one who makes that journey will have any cause to complain about the content of the show they see. And judging by the raucous, borderline orgasmic reactions Bush is Bad received on opening night, there won't be much complaining to contend with. This show intimately knows its audience, and caters to it time and time again: If you're in that audience - people fed up with the Bush administration - go see Bush is Bad. You'll have a fantastic time. I guarantee it.

Of course, you'll have an even better time if you can overlook its somewhat slapdash nature, which in many ways makes it look and sound like a show that doesn't have to work to sell itself. Which, of course, it doesn't: This means that the audience and the performers connect instantly, with no getting-to-know-you time required, but that the writing and production aren't as sharply honed as they might otherwise be.

This results in some obligatory, foot-shuffling choreography (from director Gary Slavin), some lyrics that don't rhyme well or don't rhyme at all, and a laid-back atmosphere that occasionally feels more dangerously improvisational than is absolutely ideal. But given the nature of the material, none of this matters in the long run, and the show's three performers - Kate Baldwin, Neal Mayer, and Michael McCoy - are so talented and delightful that it's a breeze to forgive the show's minor infelicities.

Regardless, there's a ton of ingenuity here, and in the interest of preserving the show's many surprises, I'll divulge only a few: There are three meditations on the evening's central theme as composers Robert Schumann, NoŽl Coward, and Kurt Weill might have tackled them in song (though the last seemed more of an extended Brecht joke to my ears); a tango for distressed operatives W. Mark Felt (aka Deep Throat) and Valerie Plame is a surpassingly silly surprise; and Baldwin's robotic Ann Coulter impersonation is especially winning (though a more accurate wig would make it funnier still).

While "The 'I' Word," calling for President Bush's impeachment went over very well as slotted near the middle of the show, it might play even better closer to the end, when its simple and direct sentiment won't get lost so easily. Still, it would be a shame to lose the penultimate positioning of "In His Own Words," a musical setting of some of President Bush's more colorful turns of phrase, which, offering an audience sing-along section, is the show's most salient showstopper.

Well, at least among the liberals and Democrats in attendance, which I'd estimate as roughly 99.99% of the audience, give or take 0.01%. Chances are, conservatives and Republicans won't feel particularly comfortable attending this show, nothing that Rosenblum has written is likely to convert anyone to his side. It's hard to have too much sympathy for them, though: What else could they possibly expect from Bush is Bad? Anti-gardening agitprop?

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Bush Is Bad: The Musical Cure for the Blue-State Blues
Through October 27
Triad Theatre, 158 West 72nd Street between Broadway and Columbus
Performances: Thursdays at 9:00 pm. There is an additional performance on Monday, October 24th at 9:00 pm
Tickets online: Theatermania