A NATIONAL LAMPOON
While the 2012 presidential election has provided entertainment enough, from Donald Trump’s political posturing to the Sarah Palin bus tour, there’s always room for a little light-hearted comedy. City in a Swamp Productions doesn’t take itself too seriously, but is clearly following every step of the election, even to including a reference in How Obama Got His Groove Back to Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate – an announcement that was made just days before the show’s debut. This new production at the Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena follows on the heels of their earlier Obama plays Rock ‘n’ Ridicule (2010) and Oh, Momma! & Obama (2010).
How Obama Got His Groove Back, a title that references the movie How Stella Got Her Groove Back (1998), has little in common with that romance starring Angela Bassett. Set in the immediate present, the play imagines the president embarking on a new career as a soul singer: inspired by Obama’s singing of a line from Al Green’s song “Let’s Stay Together” at the Apollo Theatre earlier this year, the president in How Obama… takes on both a music mogul as his producer and a sexy dance instructor. Once his second term has been secured, he intends to hand over the reins of government to his wife. Of course, neither his Vice President Joe Biden nor his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are keen on the idea. They mock Michelle Obama as a glorified exercise instructor.
Plenty of other far more ridiculous plot lines emerge. There is Mitt Romney’s lack of a sense of humor: after Romney decides to buy a comedy improv troupe to take classes, it becomes evident that he has no imagination and doesn’t understand how to play a character other than himself. Romney is also shown contributing to Obama’s campaign by buying a night in the White House’s Lincoln bedroom so that Ann Romney can plan how she will redecorate her new home. Reference is also made to the recent Secret Service scandal by bringing a Colombian prostitute to the White House who ends up getting it on with Bill Clinton. An equally implausible, though funny, plot line involves Malia Obama’s Kindle. She supposedly has been reading Fifty Shades of Grey, which finds its way into the sexually-repressed Ann Romney’s hands. Kim Jong-Un and an unnamed Taliban leader also find their way into the play’s global perspective.
How Obama Got His Groove Back is driven by actor, co-writer and director Derek Jeremiah Reid. Not only does he have Obama’s biracial looks, Reid has the president’s facial expressions and voice down pat. He sings, dances and lights up the stage with his infectious good humor and charisma. Constance Reese plays Michelle Obama with sass and sex appeal. In one scene she asks, “Barack, does this dress make my butt look big?” When he responds affirmatively, she smiles with satisfaction. Reid and Reese are the only two actors who have a single role. The chameleon-like Brent Pope plays an improv instructor, a Secret Service agent, a Taliban leader and Kim Jong-Un. The remaining cast members all play three or four parts, each one caricatured and exaggerated.
Although there is plenty of music in the show, How Obama Got His Groove Back is not a musical. Very few of the songs are sung all the way through, many have adapted lyrics and the accompaniment is recorded rather than live. Reid and Reese do a lovely duet version of “Let’s Stay Together,” while Courtney De Cosky and Phillip Wilburn (as Ann and Mitt Romney) sing “If you buy the pearls, I’ll hide the profits we make overseas” to the tune of “Our House.”
How Obama Got His Groove Back is an ambitious production. Not only does the show feature eight actors playing twenty-one characters, but it comprises sixteen scenes in two acts – all in under 90 minutes. The frequent set and costume changes slow the play’s quick pace somewhat; such rough transitions could have been managed much more smoothly. The talented production team, including costume designer Lois Tedrow, hair designer Judi Lewin and set designer Marie Miller, has done a brilliant job evoking well-known politicians and their stomping grounds. While the comedic writing team could easily have crafted a more partisan production, they have succeeded in ridiculing everyone, from the incumbent and his challenger to the Secret Service and the Clintons. An entertaining and laugh-a-minute show, How Obama Got His Groove Back may not influence your vote, but it might enable you to view the current election with a bit more detachment and humor.
photos by Kim Mulligan
How Obama Got His Groove Back
City in a Swamp Productions at Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena
scheduled to end on October 7, 2012
for tickets, visit http://www.fremontcentretheatre.com