Like its title, with the quaint adjective attached to a deadly serious noun, “The Beastly Bombing” is a thing of opposites: half sophisticated musical, half fraternity drag show; half slick, half clunky. Satire of the follies of the current administration has something to offend everyone and won’t do much to heal a bifurcated nation. But born Blue Staters, D’Oyly Carte aficionados and fans of “Borat” will find the production a comfortable port of call.
When their separate plots to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge are thwarted, a pair of white supremacists and two Al Qaeda operatives disguise themselves as Orthodox Jews and travel to D.C. with the president’s drug-addicted twin daughters in tow. Guest appearances are made by a boy-crazy Catholic prelate, a trio of Japanese WWII veterans and Jesus Christ, who dances a pas de deux with the president, a preening geek later revealed to be a closet Muslim. That’s some of what happens, anyway.
Essentially, librettist-lyricist-helmer Julien Nitzberg tosses into the fizzy mix any topic a Groundlings aud might shout out and pounces on it with an improv troupe’s subtlety (or lack thereof) and satirical glee.
Raising “Beastly Bombing” above chaos is the central conceit of bringing the musicality, showmanship and satirical thrusts of Gilbert & Sullivan to bear on the post-9/11 era; show succeeds admirably on the first two counts. Only a true Savoyard would be likely to distinguish Roger Neill’s Sullivanesque pastiche of ballads, recitatives and patter songs from the real thing. You don’t leave humming any of them, but “The Gondoliers” won’t stay with you until after a couple of hearings, either.
Spirited cast provides thoroughgoing showmanship. Aaron Matijasic and Russell Steinberg, as the Costello or Laurel halves of the skinhead/Al Qaeda teams, garner most of the laughs. White House daughters Heather Marie Marsden and Darrin Revitz dazzle in synchronous execution of Kevin Remington and Allen Wall’s choreography, and Jesse Merlin as President Dodgeson is just a ring-tailed wonder: Stephen Colbert with Ray Bolger’s limbs and Alfred Drake’s baritone.
As for the material itself, the rhyming is often inelegant (“The government is corrupt/Things have lately sucked”), and close attention to the patter lyrics doesn’t yield many chuckles or surprises. Moreover, in taking on so many different aspects of the political scene, Nitzberg has to settle for the most obvious and puerile jibes. The sequence with the superannuated Japanese sailors dancing with canes is the most delightful because they’re the only targets you don’t see coming a mile away.
Most troubling is the always smug and generally mean-spirited tone of the writing, not because of its politics but because it’s at odds with the show’s inspirations. Gilbert & Sullivan had axes to grind, but also the deftness to conceal them — even the Lord High Executioner’s blade — behind a good-natured facade. Yes, they skewered living forms, but always in good fun. No less a spectator than Victoria herself, at a command perf, could hear “Oh ’tis a glorious thing I ween/To be a regular royal Queen” and take no offense. They say she tapped her toe. What would Dubya tap if he were in attendance at the Steve Allen Theater?
Gilbert & Sullivan weren’t always subtle, but lacerating contempt was not in their quiver, and “Beastly Bombing” would appeal to a wider audience — and perhaps have more effect on the body politic — if Nitzberg had removed it from his.
Some brush-up tech rehearsals — those scene changes, good grief! — would do much to bring tech elements up to the level of the music and dance.