VOTE FOR ME – London Theatre Workshop, London.
With the UK general election over and done with, you’d think that’d be enough voting for one week – but step inside the London Theatre Workshop and you’ll find Vote For Me: A Musical Debate, a wickedly funny satire on US politics from the writers of Avenue Q. Watch the presidential candidates weave through the minefield of difficult questions in “the world’s biggest popularity contest”, aided (?) and abetted by political advisors and ruthlessly ambitious spouses – and then vote for your favourite at the end. For those unacquainted with the US political system, this is a very accessible production. A reference guide in the back of the programme is even provided to assist you.
Hans Rye as inept Republican candidate Buddy Rounsaville frequently turns to his advisor to find out what he thinks, yet comes across as a very amiable, jovial man of the people, backed up by his tigress of a wife, Amy (Jennie Jacobs), whose ruthless streak frequently bubbles over, to great comic effect. By contrast we have the neurotic, try-too-hard Democrat Janet Tilghman (Emily Lynne) who wavers beautifully between the desire to do the best for her country and the pressures of being the first woman president. As the show progresses, the vulnerability in her eyes becomes ever more evident. At her side is her beta-male husband, Roger (Arvid Larsen), resplendent in bland beige, equally unsure of how to fulfill his duty and be “…the First First Lady, who stands up when she pees.”
Joe Leather brings much charisma to his role as The Advisor – or should that be Advisors? He neatly switches between 2 different accents, depending on his candidate and delivers some of the best one-liners in the show. Somehow holding all of this together is perky news anchor Robyn Fielder, who grows increasingly more frazzled as the debate goes on. At the end, she confidently reels off a never-ending list of countries in a triumphant rendition of ‘VOTE! (For Me)’, earning herself a thunderous round of applause from the audience. As with a lot of fringe theatre, it does feel as though the show is working within the capabilities of the venue – the set and props feel a little low-budget, but serve their purpose well. As with any show involving music, this is greatly improved by the presence of a live musician – in this case, pianist and musical director, Chris Guard.
The show feels more like a revue than a narrative-driven plot, but this allows plenty of personal asides to the audience and an exploration of lots of different styles, including gospel and tango. Its strength definitely lies within its toe-tapping tunes, with wordy lyrics in a similar vein to Stephen Sondheim and Tom Lehrer. Musical (and satirical) highlights include ‘The Global Warming Song’ about brushing off the facts to suit your political agenda, and controversial scheme for bringing about world peace, ‘Middle East Disney’, complete with glitzy tap routine. At times, the execution of the choreography is a little rough around the edges, but generally the tongue-in-cheek parodying of the Broadway style works really well, appealing both those who love and loathe musicals (no mean feat).
There’s room for a little bit of sharpening up, but Vote For Me is still, a star-spangled satirical delight.
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By Gail Bishop
5th May – 23rd May 2015
London Theatre Workshop, London SW6 4SG.