Liberals wishing the political song parodies of the Capitol Steps were more partisan can embrace the proudly biased satire of “Bush Is Bad: The Musical Cure for Blue State Blues.” The title of Joshua Rosenblum’s 21-song revue says it all: This is cabaret on a mission to mock, as the pre-show announcement calls him, “the smirking chimp who currently occupies the White House.”
With the administration’s approval rating at a record low, it’s no surprise this show has found an audience (it’s been running at the Triad Theater since September and is booked at least through the end of the year). There’s enough wit and craft to the songwriting, though, to elevate the show above cash-in gimmickry. At his best, Rosenblum attacks the government with lyrics that draw blood and melodies that stick in the brain.
The best example is “Culture of Life,” in which the three-person ensemble sings a grand, “Les Miz”-style fanfare about overturning Roe v. Wade. Just as they hit the crescendo of their beautifully arranged harmonies, they swear they don’t mind if some of the babies being saved end up degenerate. “If some of them in time/Assume a life of crime,” go the lyrics, “That’s just one more death row prisoner we can kill.”
That twist works because it’s a diversion from the expected message of the song. Musically refreshing curves are thrown by Rosenblum’s tributes to other writers, like “Sure, You Betcha, Georgie,” a Kurt Weill-inspired lament sung by Laura Bush (Kate Baldwin).
Too many of the songs, however, lack the unexpected. No matter how individually clever, 21 tunes that use the same arch tone to attack the same Republican targets begin to blur together. If Rosenblum doesn’t want to engage the audience by varying the subjects of his satire, he might keep us guessing by throwing in a few sincere numbers or by ending more songs with arguments that aren’t immediately apparent from their titles. As it stands, the uniformity of purpose and method invite the mind to wander.
Director Gary Slavin does make successful bids for attention with his witty choreography, especially during a spies-in-love ballet between Mark “Deep Throat” Felt (Neal Mayer) and Valerie Plame (Baldwin). His visuals feel fresh even when the lyrics repeat themselves.
The cast nails the air of conspiratorial naughtiness needed to allow the crowd in on the jokes. They also prove excellent singers, with voices flexible enough to belt anthems in one breath and sing staccato rhythms in the next. No doubt they’re singing their message to the converted, but at least they’re singing it well.