Writers: Drew Fornarola and Scott Elmegreen
Director: Dom O’Hanlon
Musical Director: Chris Guard
Reviewer: Edie Ranvier
Calling all Londoners! Still tearstained and tired-out from riding all Thursday night on that emotional rollercoaster they call the UK General Election? Head down to the London Theatre Workshop, where directors Dom O’Hanlon and Chris Guard are staging the perfect cathartic antidote.
Vote For Me! A Musical Debate gives you the chance to reprise that ballot box moment – but this time with dancing Democrats, singing spin-doctors and the reassuring sense that at least we’re not as bad as the Americans.
The show, premiering in London after five years in and around New York, takes you on a musical journey through the Third Debate in a fictional US presidential election. Tight-lipped, talented Democratic candidate Janet (Emily Lynne) is up against affable Republican buffoon Buddy (Hans Rye) for the superpower’s top political posting. Unimpressed television presenter Robyn Fiedler (Lucy Grainger) arbitrates, while the candidates’ partners (Jennie Jacobs and Arvid Larsen) and political advisers (both played by Joe Leather) smear, scheme, spin and – sort of – support their (wo)man. Catchy tunes, tap-dances and tangos ensue, all full of witty barbs at the American democratic process.
Who wins at the end of the night is up to the audience, who are issued with red and blue ballot slips and asked to decide whether the citizens of the US should “vote for their Buddy” or join “Janet’s Planet”.
It’s fun. Actually, it’s really fun. Writers Drew Fornarola and Scott Elmegreen get maximum entertainment out of the contrasts between the Republican and Democratic camps.
Lynne, the only genu-ine American in the cast, is rebarbative but lovable as the neurotic, deserving Janet, while Larsen as her husband balances doggy devotion with sneaky concerns about his own emasculation.
But it’s Rye who steals the show as Bushalike Republican Buddy, bewildered and charming, at a loss without his red folder (“the one with all my opinions in it”). He’s at the heart of the two best song-and-dance routines of the night, the smug chorus-line “There’s No Global Warming on Fox”, and a Rambo-style dance of triumph when Robyn finally asks him a question to which he remembers the answer.
Jennie Jacobs is sexy and heartless as his ambitious wife, wannabe First Lady Amy. Meanwhile, Joe Leather switches virtuosically between the Republican and Democratic advisers, armed only with a change of accent, and puts so much character into each rôle that you’ll forget that he’s only one person.
Grainger, as the presenter, has the most thankless part, but breaks out of her professional chilliness with a fantasy sequence about running for President herself instead of “these two nincompoops”, where one feels she has a point.
There’s a trove of multi-talent on display, and every actor nails his or her accent, high notes and choreography down to a step. It’s a pleasure to watch a cast so accomplished.
It’s probably fair to say that the show has lost some of its edge in crossing the Atlantic. The satire is directed squarely at a US public, and though the programme helpfully includes a Glossary to translate the American references for UK viewers, quips about Roe v Wade and Bittergate raise only delayed laughs from a London audience (and even then, more from a sense of pride that we’ve identified the target). Fornarola and Elmegreen are coming to London later in the month, to see what the UK has made of their musical: perhaps they could re-angle some of the more obscure asides to aim them more squarely at a British audience.
In the main, though, it’s a slick, funny, timely night that gleams with wit and good performances.
Runs until 23 May