By Shari Barrett
Fans of Mad Magazine and Laugh In will certainly be in their element during 44: The unOfficial, unSanctioned Obama Musical (As Told Through the Hazy Recollection of Joe Biden), a modern satire featuring music, lyrics and book by Eli Bauman, with additional songs co-written with his father, Jon “Bowzer” Bauman from the retro 50’s nostalgia TV show/most random band to play Woodstock, “Sha Na Na.” Centering on the story of Barack Obama’s history-changing election, 44 tells tales you won’t read about in history books – told by Joe Biden who kinda sorta remembers it all.
The cast of 11 talented and highly energetic triple-threat performers is led by T.J. Wilkins (NBC’s “The Voice”) as Barack Obama and Shanice (Award-winning R&B artist) as Michelle Obama. The two bring their closeness as a couple and the importance of their family life into focus through song, with tongue firmly in cheek when it comes to anything political. And hilarity ensues as no topic is off limits, no matter which side of the political world you call home, especially during Obama’s private meetings with leading Republicans who challenge his every move.
The ensemble includes (in alphabetical order) Kevin Bailey as John Boehner, Larry Cedar as the opinionated Mitch McConnell, Chad Doreck perfectly cast as the always-smiling and usually clueless Joe Biden, Kelley Dorney as waiting-for-her-turn Hillary Clinton, amazing belter Kitten Kuroi as the cat-suited Voice of the People, Jane Papageorge as the much-maligned Sarah Palin, Dino Shorté as Herman Cain, Jeff Sumner as Lindsay Graham, and Michael Uribes as the unenlightened Ted Cruz. Even if you do not have a clear understanding of who these people were and how their presence affected Obama’s presidency, I guarantee you will walk away with a slightly left-leaning accounting as what went on, both in front of the public and especially behind closed doors. Do a bit of research ahead of time to understand what these people meant to each other to better appreciate the musical’s biting and witting sarcasm.
Creator and director Eli Bauman certainly puts the cast through their paces with constant motion, including choreography by James Alsop that pays tribute to music icons while using the many doors on the stage to full advantage given how often cast members pop in and out of them! The rocking band House of Vibe as “The Andrew Jackson Five” had the walls and furniture pulsating to the beat, with Music Director Anthony “Brew” Brewster on keyboards, Phillip “Fish” Fisher on drums, Corey Cofield on bass, Conrad Bauer on guitar, Greg Raymond on keyboards, and Jon “Bowzer” Bauman on piano. Just a quick note to the sound engineer; much of the lyrics were garbled due to volume levels set too high.
Performances of 44: The unOfficial, unSanctioned Obama Musical run through May 20 on Wednesday-Saturday at 7 p.m. at The Bourbon Room Hollywood, 6356 Hollywood Blvd., L.A. 90028. Tickets are $28-$55 with seating assigned upon arrival. Doors open at 5pm for seating and dinner with a $25 per person minimum for food (limited menu) and/or drinks required in addition to the ticket purchase. Tickets at 44ObamaMusical.com and BourbonRoomHollywood.com. And if you love political humor and our freedom to speak our minds, grab tickets before the run sells out!
Mankind’s inhumanity to others is something I will never understand, any more than Anne Frank did while she and her family endured living in the hidden annex above business offices in Amsterdam until 9-3-44 when she and her family were sent to Auschwitz on the last transport train to the death camp. Anne’s desire to be a writer was fulfilled after the end of WWII when her father found her diary and published it.
The new adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank at the Long Beach Playhouse begins with both the Frank and Van Daan families arriving inside the small annex apartment that would become their home for 761 days. We soon learn about their individual personalities, quirks, and their desire to get back into the world as soon as possible. The play is a true depiction of raw, daily survival during the Holocaust when even the slightest sound could result in immediate capture and death.
Told with an abundance of emotional sentiment, the production directed by Phyllis Gitlin is sure to hit home with a truth that still resonates today, thanks to Vita Muccia who embodies Anne’s heart and soul, wide-eyed wonder and love of her own independent spirit. Her extraordinary performance will allow you to experience the willful and joyful young girl Anne was – and always will be.
Rick Reischman portrays Anne’s loving father Otto Frank, a man who simply wants the best for his family and tries to protect them as best he can. His closing monologue upon returning to the family hiding place after his release from Auschwitz in early 1945 grabbed the rapt attention of the audience, with many tears being shed when he revealed how all the others met their deaths in the camps.
Anne’s strained relationship with her mother Edith Frank (Andrea Stradling) set the two at odds, while her quieter sister Margot (Lauren Velasco) perfectly embodies the lonely girl’s isolation from moment-to-moment. The joy the two sisters express while dancing and singing together offers brief glimpses into the happy and carefree life they were forced to leave behind.
The Frank family is first joined in hiding by Peter Van Daan (Robbie Macey), a shy and gangly teenager who prefers to stay in his tiny attic room with his cat rather than relate to the others. As time passes, Peter and Anne’s relationship develops as the shy boy learns to deal with the more direct and curious Anne. Their first experience of falling in love is beautifully expressed during their first kiss and their laughter that followed. Peter’s parents, the bickering and selfish Van Daans, are a couple no one would like to be with for more than a few minutes, let alone during two years in hiding. The two actors (Harriet Whitmyer and Stephen Saatjian) share many of the Van Danns private moments, some unspoken, that allow us to see what makes their relationship tick. But given how different this couple is from the Franks, if Mr. Van Daan and Otto Frank had not been business partners, I doubt these two families would have agreed to go into hiding together. Even so, there are times of great joy and celebration for all, most notably during a Hanukkah celebration when Anne presents each with a handmade gift.
Lee Samuel Tanng is the fussy latecomer, dentist Mr. Dussel, who shares a room with Anne but little else. And he hates Peter’s cat, a real dealbreaker for Anne, Samantha Haase is the caring and concerned Miep Gies who brings news and much-needed supplies along with Philip Brickey as Mr. Kraler, a business associate of Otto Frank who warns those hidden to maintain their silence. But as time progresses, the insanity of the outside world creeps in each time the two visit, with their sense of danger progressing as time passes. A tender yet heartbreaking moment occurs every time Meip walks in and Anne runs to smell the fresh air on her clothing, giving the audience a true sense of the fractured reality Anne faced being locked away from the outside world.
The Diary of Anne Frank, written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, adapted by Wendy Kesselman from the play’s Definitive Edition edited by Mirjam Pressler in 2016, continues through May 6 on Friday/Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets range from $20 – $40 available at www.lbplayhouse.org or by calling 562-494-1014, option 1. Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach, 90804. This is a play every parent should share with their teenagers.