Review: ‘Bush Is Bad’

Supporters of President Bush may not be amused, but pretty much everybody else with a sense of humor should find Joshua Rosenblum's musical revue "Bush Is Bad" highly entertaining.

Supporters of President Bush may not be amused, but pretty much everybody else with a sense of humor should find Joshua Rosenblum’s musical revue “Bush Is Bad” highly entertaining. Although the show is about as subtle as its title, and some numbers are hit-and-miss, the political revue is pointed and hilarious overall. The West Coast premiere production at the NoHo Arts Center boasts an energetic cast and polished direction from Jay Willick and James J. Mellon, topped by Roger Ainslie’s jocular and eerily accurate impression of our Decider-in-Chief.

The show begins with two amusing and straightforward numbers, “How Can 59 Million People Be So Dumb” and “Anyone Can Grow Up to Be President,” each displaying flashy choreography and efficient staging.

Although “Crazy Ann Coulter,” “Mr. Whittington Regrets” and “Get Real” are better in concept than execution, “Torture Has Been Very Good to Me” is a cheerful ditty sung by Alberto Gonzales (Michael Craig Shapiro) with a fabulous reprise that brings his story up to date.

“Scooter Libby, Superstar,” “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Bush” and “Sure, You Betcha, George” are clever pieces in the styles of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Jerome Kern and Kurt Weill, respectively. “Culture of Life” effectively skewers its topic group, and “In His Own Words” memorably allows Bush to provide the lyrics.

Ainslie looks nothing like Bush, but he has Bush’s squint, body language and, especially, his voice down cold. His perfs of “Down in Crawford” (which equates clearing brush with the “war on terror”), “Uniter, Not a Divider” (he’s united 72% of the public against him) and “Heck of a Job” are assured bits of comic excellence, and the quiet dramatic moment in which Bush plays with an Optimus Prime action figure is a piece of whacked genius.

Jonathan Zenz is wonderful in multiple scenes, from the serious German recitation of “Das Bush Ist Schlecht” to a peevish Donald Rumsfeld. Sabrina Miller brings a sassy charm to the blithely rude “Won’t You Please,” but her Ann Coulter seems unfocused.

Shapiro has a ball with “The Gay Agenda,” dancing down the theater aisle as he ticks off the nefarious errands of the day, and his Alberto Gonzales is blunt but humorous. Stefanie Black has a lovely voice and is good in many numbers: Her “Surabaya Johnny” parody is terrific.

Melanie Ewbank, Gerry Mullins and Mai Thompson-Heath complete the fine cast. Michael Lavine’s piano playing and musical direction is lively and inspired.

Rosenblum’s music is tuneful, his lyrics are mostly witty, and while his show is clearly partisan, it’s done in a good-humored way. Willick and Mellon’s direction keeps the pace sprightly and the staging fluid, although they use the second floor of Reno Blake’s simple but evocative bi-level set too infrequently.

David Matwijkow’s costumes are attractive, and his bandaged hunter get-up for Whittington is droll.

Bush Is Bad

NoHo Arts Center, North Hollywood; 99 seats; $35 top


An Open at the Top in association with the NoHo Arts Center presentation of a musical in one act with music and lyrics by Joshua Rosenblum. Directed by Jay Willick and James J. Mellon.


Sets, Reno Blake; costumes, David Matwijkow; lighting, Luke Moyer; sound, Jonathan Zenz; musical direction, Michael Lavine; production stage manager, Curtis C. Opened, reviewed April 6, 2007. Runs through May 20. Running time: 1 HOUR, 30 MIN.


Ensemble: Roger Ainslie, Stefanie Black, Melanie Ewbank, Michael Lavine, Sabrina Miller, Gerry Mullins, Mai Thompson-Heath, Michael Craig Shapiro, Jonathan Zenz.
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