TRUMP! The Musical
Crashing into the Winter Garden last week was an explosive, tuneful, breath-taking production – what one might almost call a pop-up theatrical classic. Comprised of pastiche, original tunes, hot new rhythms, shouting, tap-dancing – not to mention raw emotion and language – and a brilliant set – TRUMP! the Musical squashes all competition and further arrives just in time for this year’s TONYs.
An eviscerating book by Terry, Harvey and Douglas; lyrics by Disney defectors; music by more men and women than you can remember ever putting their fingers to the keyboards, TRUMP! shoulders aside all memories of tuneful springing Mormons, little girls called “ Matilda,” and even our own new national anthem comprised of hip hop, rap and history.
I’d gotten wind of history’s fastest pregnancy and had flown to London to see the first two workshop performances of this instant dazzler. I was, not to put too fine a point on it, knocked out. Brechtian with wafting measures of Rodgers and Porter and directed by Barlett Mantello, its cast – I doubted – would never be reassembled, which made me both blessed and despondent. I feared no one would believe me as I rushed back to light signal fires for Kelli and Paul and Chita, for Norbert and Lin, even for Renee Fleming.
Simply put TRUMP! is the story of a man who believes he can do something good for the sake of his country. His ambitions are both magnetic and misguided. As an architect made up equally of Christopher Wren, Frank Gehry, and Robert A.M. Stern, Trump starts small and then explodes into raptures of space and color, using material and wit that has its audience in paroxysms of delight and surprise. Paul Zlot’s chubby fingers snap, point, and condemn as his baritone moans, shouts, whispers, and even – at one tender moment to his wife – lullabies. That wife, a well-disguised Kelli O’Hara, is nearly unrecognizable until her eleven o’clock tirade, “Hogwash!”
The entire production hangs on the best bones in the English theatre. We gasp to catch “MacBeth,” “MacHeath,” even “Guys and Dolls” and “Sweet Charity” as Trump’s children advise each other to brush up their Lock-jaw. This trio is as hungry as their father for praise, accomplishment, and loot. Ms. Rivera’s turn as Trump’s billionaire mother is not delicate. With a renewed vigor and strength, her legs threaten to bring down anyone in her path.
And Renee Fleming’s turn as Trump’s first wife, discarded but triumphant, should bring her her first TONY.
More amazing support is offered by the faceless, nameless sestet of Trump advisors. Some dressed in uniform, complete with battle ribbons and bars, others just “suits” who provide the audience with a wild guessing game and who, as we try to identify them, bring us back to the nineteenth century in which hissing and cheering were both compliments and commentary.
Identifying Trump’s competition is easier. There is a pious, sleazy, Brainiac; a sweet cherubic dreamer; a practical man of the soil. But also doing rapturous turns are a round, ravenous governor; a stupendously talented physician; the scion of a family who has, in fact, in the past done both good and bad things to the nation.
Every character on the stage is having the time of his or her life, exploding, simpering, seducing. The audience is eager to be taken in, to be made part of the story (or joke), like children slurping with straws at the bottom of their milkshakes.
One of the evening’s major heros (or several) is the combination of the late Boris Aronson, William Ivey Long, and Lincoln Center’s best designers who manage to make TRUMP! as a character grow and shrink from gigantic to minuscule to heroic again. Our hero’s fortunes are echoed perfectly in the ratio of man to his surroundings, of one man among what seem to be thousands.
There is a stumbling block standing front and center at the Winter Garden: the PACs of producers who mistakenly imagined that TRUMP! would be the silver stake in Dracula’s heart.
Instead, theatre-goers hit the sidewalks humming, laughing, ready to forgive anything for the sake of “telling it like it is.”
With such soon-to-be standards as “I Never Said That,” “A Low Energy Rocket,” “Lyin’ Ted” destined to be covered by musicians the world over, TRUMP! rides rough-shod over its would-be detractors. A stage full of goons, Ms. Universes, free drinks at casinos, combined with a total lack of ideas for the future, TRUMP! the Musical is a triumph.