Rod Blagojevich Superstar
At SecondCity Theatricals
By Dan Zeff
CHICAGO—Opening night anticipation ran high at the premiere of “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” at SecondCity e.t.c. The show looked like a satirical match made in theatrical heaven, Second City versus the late and unlamented governor of Illinois.
Regrettably, the reality did not live up to the expectation. The show runs only 50 minutes and there were a handful of sharp lines and a couple of effective musical numbers, But too many moments begged to be funny without being funny, and the whole enterprise was undercut by a production that looked unsteady and under rehearsed.
“Superstar” is being staged by Second City Theatricals for two performances a week. Presumably, if the show takes off at the box office, the production will transfer for a more abundant run. Right now, the long-term prospects look iffy.
As the title suggests, “Superstar” borrows the format of the 1970’s rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar.” A few of the melodies retain the flavor of the original Andrew Lloyd Webber score as the show traces in very broad strokes the rise and fall of the governor of the Illini state.
A cast of five portrays major figures in the Blago saga starting with the governor himself, portrayed as a slightly dim bulb driven by the twin engines of greed and self delusion. Supporting the title character are his wife Patti, alderman and father in law Richard Mell, political adversaries Lisa Madigan and Patrick Fitzgerald, and Roland Burris.
“Superstar” is really one long in-joke, mining its comedy from familiar bits like Blago’s luxurious hair and his campaign against the Chicago Tribune. The expectation is that audiences will follow knowledgably as Patti cusses, Rod manipulates, and Burris seeks personal advantage. So in a sense the satire is gift wrapped for the show. The audience recognition factor wins half the battle for book author Ed Furman and composer-lyricist T. J. Shanoff.
The approach toward Rod is surprisingly congenial, which raises a core difficulty. “Superstar” has no edge. It provides no anger or cynicism directed at the governor’s pillaging his office in a rank abuse of power. His escapades are treated with amusement—no indignation and no outrage. Perhaps the creators saw the Blago story as too absurd for anger. And with the governor impeached and a national laughing stock, maybe they didn’t want to kick him when he was down. Possibly they believed the audience wants a light evening rather than a lot of in-your-face disapproval. In any case, most of the songs and dialogue urgently need more bite.
The opening night performance had too many ragged moments. Timing was off and the actor playing Roland Burris had a particularly tough go. The only performance that approached the proper level came from Joey Bland as Blagojevich. Bland conveyed the chutzpah and bizarre sense of entitlement that must have blinded the real Blago to political reality, and decency.
A couple of musical numbers indicated how much better the show would be with more consistent quality material. One is a profanity-laced aria by Patti Blagojevich and the other is “Pay to Play,” a hymn to backroom political dealing that was worthy of the score of “Fiorello!”
“Rod Blagojevich Superstar” may be a work in progress that will improve as the performers settle more comfortably into their roles and especially if the author and composer can upgrade the book and score. But the subject matter has a limited shelf life. Blagojevich is hot news right now, but will prospective audiences still care as much in a few weeks? Of course, Blago could grant the show a fresh wave of free publicity by launching some new and outrageous ploy to keep himself in the public eye during his ongoing voyage of self-justification. He may yet end up the Jerry Springer of our day.
But right now “Rod Blagojevich Superstar” is a good idea that doesn’t quite work. Little harm is done. The playing time is short and the ticket price reasonable. But we’d hoped for so much more.
“Rod Blagojevich Superstar” is playing an open run at the Second City e.t.c. cabaret theater, 1608 North Wells Street. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $14. Call 312 337 3992 or visit www.secondcity.com.
The show gets a rating of 2 stars. February 2009
Contact Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org.