It’s about time we spoke of Judy Garland, Barbra Streisand, and John Ashcroft in the same breath. Each has delivered successful and memorable solo musical performances that have gone on to secure their legendary status in musical theatre history -- well, almost. If Attorney General John Ashcroft isn’t included in this list yet, he should be, because he apparently has a damn fine singing voice.
At least, for the premise of Eat The Taste, Ashcroft’s true calling after leaving office in a few years lies on the boards of Broadway. Greg Kotis, of quirky Tony-award winning Urinetown fame, has slipped another unusual little nugget combining political criticism with traditional song-and-dance onto the theatrical radar, and Eat The Taste is certainly worthy of time-stepping in Urinetown’s footsteps. Currently enjoying its world premier at the Barrow Street Theatre (sharing the stage with the foreboding BUG the rest of the week), Eat The Taste manages to poke fun at Kotis and his writing partner Mark Hollmann, current Broadway smashes Wicked and Avenue Q, Dick Cheney, Tony Kushner, the Pentagon, and most importantly, itself.
Any show that begins with the kidnapping of a lyricist/librettist in a Cinderella pillowcase promises a gleeful following, and Eat The Taste delivers in spades. This tight, energetic 65-minute show briefly sketches Attorney General Ashcroft’s determination not to go into academia or traditional business following his leave of office, but instead share his gift of entertainment and humor with the theatre-going public. This will be accomplished with the help of the Department of Justice and Homeland Security, of course, whose duty it is to convince Mr. Kotis to write an edgy, hip, rollicking good time of a musical for their beloved star.
Kotis’s unique brand of lightning-quick banter is handled expertly by the small cast—and it probably doesn’t hurt that Kotis appears as himself, as does Hollmann, to further the ironic reality. Bill Coelius as Number 3, the bumbling, hapless, but still over-eager agent from Homeland Security, is a positive treat. His interaction with fellow agents 72 and 20 is more that of a pouty sibling than co-worker, which comes together brilliantly in some Keystone Kop-esque moments. All three agents excel at physical comedy, slipping effortlessly from slapstick to sham severity and back again. Eva van Dok as Agent 20 and Paul Urcioli as Number 72 try desperately to restore a sense of order and seniority, but their own curious methods to handling the reluctant Kotis do well to dispel any level of intense seriousness.
Obviously, any government tool of persuasion comes in the form of a Broadway producer, and Gibson Frazier as Matthew encompasses the bookish, quiet sense of power tempered with outbursts of frenetic distress. (Whatever you do, don’t insult Wicked in front of him.) However, he can do a pretty good gospel call and answer… Mirroring the eccentric pace of Urinetown, director John Clancy keeps his cast focused in this crazy, shabby little New York motel room (designed by Lauren Helpern), as dedicated to signing Kotis onto the project as though their lives depended on it. The remaining members of the artistic team include Tyler Micoleau (lighting), Brian Ronan (sound), Kim Gill (costumes), and David Brimmer (fight director), all OBIE-winning design members of the production BUG.
All in all, Eat the Taste is yet another inspired political satire that manages to both flick the government on the ear and then giggle while swearing it was someone else. There is an innocent quality to Taste that balances out the blatant views of the playwright, which in their defense hold a whopping quantity of truth and always get a raucous laugh from the audience. Bobby Strong fought for the freedom of the people in Urinetown, and Greg Kotis fights to make sure the people don’t have to listen to Ashcroft’s rendition of “Let the Eagle Soar” any more than they have to.
Eat the Taste