Like manna from heaven, comic material galore has been landing in the lap of Chicago's venerable Second City comedy troupe of late.
Like manna from heaven, comic material galore has been landing in the lap of Chicago’s venerable Second City comedy troupe of late. First, the extended primary season involving the city’s own Barack Obama fed the company’s giddily funny take on politics in “Between Barack and a Hard Place.” And then, after the election, when comedy usually gives way to seriousness (particularly in the midst of crisis), Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich stepped forward into the glorious comic spotlight to which only truly ridiculous politicians can ever aspire, and was caught on tape brashly attempting to sell Obama’s senate seat.
“Rod Blagojevich Superstar!” is Second City’s ripped-from-the-headlines, rushed-to-the-stage, ready-for-potential-touring parody. Combining the disgraced governor’s grandiosity with the musical flavors of ’70s rock operas like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the show probably has a limited audience of political junkies and a pretty short shelf life. But as an offshoot of the Obama storyline, with the potential of a trial to keep the story alive, this brief and breezy show may turn out to have greater legs than Roland Burris’ senate career.
Joey Bland ably invests the title figure with the right irrepressible energy and bizarre sense of self, and he’s helped aplenty by the signature super-swoopy helmet of hair. While his Blago reminds the audience with comic frequency that he’s a “scrapper,” the chorus right upfront sets the stage for the overall characterization: “Rod Blagojevich Superstar/Are you as nuts as we think you are?/How is it you don’t get the gist/You’re a delusional narcissist.”
Book writer Ed Furman smartly recognizes that people only know, or care about, the broad outline here. Inside info on Illinois politics is mentioned, but mostly the show is a character study in comic self-delusion mixed with mild stupidity: “Since when is breaking a few laws illegal?” Blago asks, with a degree of sincerity that really is funny.
The most consistent source of amusement actually stems not from Blago but from his wife Patti (Lori McClain). She has been compared in the news media to Lady Macbeth, and don’t imagine that’s not referenced here. As the foul-mouthed first lady, McClain manages to generate a laugh with pretty much every curse word, and there’s a plethora of them. “I don’t know how to fucking love him,” she sings to a familiar melody, “Yet still I love that fucker so.”
The show has plenty of unpatched potholes and shows all the signs of being rushed to the stage. But unlike so many vehicles of its ilk, “Rod Blagojevich Superstar!” achieves a level of solid entertainment largely because it doesn’t have to try too hard. After all, these depictions represent only mild exaggerations of the real figures. Burris, no joke, has built an actual shrine to himself, so the performer who plays him, Sam Richardson, need only put on a little false humility and it’s funny.
In fact, a thought kept occurring while watching this show — and watching the state’s attorney general Lisa Madigan, herself depicted in the piece, watch the show. With his craving for cash undiluted, and his need for attention so craven, is it really out of the realm of reality to imagine Blago deciding that maybe he’d like to play himself?