Obama Mia! is Brave New Workshop's Uptown curtain call
Maybe it's the historic importance of the show, or maybe it's the chance to get their knives into the current political chaos. Whatever the reason, the Brave New Workshop hits it out of the park with Obama Mia! or, The Real Housewives of Abbottabad, producing an evening that savages those on both sides of the political fence.
First, there's the history. This is Brave New Workshop's 274th comedy revue and the final one to be presented at the company's longtime home on Hennepin Avenue in Uptown. This fall, that part of the operation will move downtown (though still on Hennepin) to the former Hennepin Stages theater. At Friday's premiere, the audience included not only founder Dudley Riggs but several company members from the original production.
As the title would indicate, a lot of the show centers on the president—his challenges, his gaffes, and his sinking approval ratings. That gets played out throughout the show, but it's especially evident in the first half of the first act, as the first two and a half years of his presidency are surveyed with occasional ABBA-inspired musical moments.
But don't think for a moment that it's just the Democrats under the microscope. Favorite target Sarah Palin and her habit of, ahem, reinterpreting American history make for one of the show's real highlights, as we learn that Lincoln was shot at Geddy Lee (yes, like the singer from Rush). See, history is fun! Meanwhile, poor Tim Pawlenty is portrayed as so dull he puts himself to sleep during a TV appearance.
Even the trips to society at large have a political element. Harry Potter's final defeat of Voldemort causes him to turn his attention to the political arena—and plans of world domination. The recently approved right to gay marriage in New York provides a platform for a previously married lesbian couple to enjoy the right to divorce.
Socially and politically based comedy hits hardest when it penetrates into something very true, and that happens twice in the second act. First, there is "The Egg Song," in which a mother explains the racial makeup of Minnesota (a nutritious, colorful center and a bland, white exterior), followed by a skit where Democrat and Republican pollsters present their cases to a confused potential voter, often using exactly the same language and reasons for their support.
To play the president (and other roles) the company has added Andy Hilbrands, a young African-American comic (and member of the Student Union, BNW's training program) who not only does a spot-on Obama but also breathes life into several other characters, including one in a sketch where he and the rest of the company discuss race, wondering why it took Brave New Workshop so long to add a black performer to take on the role of Obama. We are also treated to Ellie Hino's Palin and Michele Bachmann and the general madness of the rest of the company, from Joe Bozic's snarky newsman to Josh Eakright's Anthony Weiner.
Not everything works perfectly ("The Unemployment Song" relies too heavily on "people who get government assistance are lazy bums" to really hit the mark), but there's more than enough here for a proper sendoff to Brave New Workshop's longtime home.
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