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Propaganda! The Musical

Theatre Review by Howard Miller

Propaganda! The Musical
Dale Sampson and the cast.
Photo by Russ Rowland

The one good reason to see Propaganda! The Musical, an entry in the New York Musical Theatre Festival, is to catch the rising star performance by Dale Sampson as a befuddled young man who finds himself heading up a firm that is in the business of distracting the public’s attention from the personal scandals of political bigwigs.

Mr. Sampson, who exudes charm by the barrelful, sings, dances, and acts up a storm, though he and the rest of the talented cast are saddled with a show that is filled with hoary jokes, over-the-top gay stereotypes, and running gags that were old when burlesque was born. In the right hands, the kind of low comedy on display here can be resurrected to great effect (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum comes to mind). But Taylor Ferrera and Matt Webster, who are responsible for the book, music, and lyrics, have not found the right tone or style to make it work, and the results are unfortunately juvenile.

Mr. Sampson plays Rookie, who is pressed into taking over the business when his grandfather (Kenny Morris) dies suddenly under suspicious circumstances. Grandpa’s last whispered advice to Rookie, the secret of his success: “Listen to the song inside of you.” Under the watchful eye of Grandpa’s oldest friend Harry (Mr. Morris again), and Tary (Beth Cheryl Tarnow), who carries a torch for our hero, Rookie comes up with a brilliant idea. They will cover up the President’s affair with a terrorist by putting on a musical about another scandal: Watergate! The Musical.

Ironically, the bits of Watergate! The Musical we see during Act II are funnier, sharper, better directed (by Nathan Brewer), and more engaging musically than anything that comes before. Marc Cornes, who plays an office doofus named Ted, gets a breakout moment in his scene-stealing turn as Nixon, while Kenita R. Miller, a talented singer and performer, is largely wasted in the thankless role of Agent X, Rookie’s archenemy. Mr. Brewer keeps things moving at a frenetic pace, matched by Jason Sparks’s choreography and the vivid costumes by Sky Switser. Running time is just under two hours with intermission.


The New York Musical Theatre Festival 2014
Propaganda! The Musical
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: www.nymf.org