Photography: Candace Freeman
In a packed house of enthusiastic patrons at Hollywood’s Bourbon Room, an incredible ensemble of actors and musicians delivered a riotous show of political storytelling. Passionate and powerful vocal numbers (supported by flawless musicianship) highlighting Obama’s rise to office inspired the room, while nonstop laughs from ridiculous situational sketches (spurred on by characters of prominent American politicians on both sides of the aisle) had the room in hysterics.
Produced by Kevin Bailey (who also plays the part of Joe Boehmer) / MB Artists, Monica Saunders-Weinberg, and Eli Bauman, a former Obama campaign organizer who wrote the music, lyrics, and book and also directs, along with Hip Hop (yes, Hip Hop!) choreography from James Alsop, the show is absolutely brilliant! Including cameos from a host of political characters including Mitch McConnell, Hilary Clinton, Herman Cain, and Sarah Palin, the production blends a perfect combination of political history, Hollywood sparkle, and delicious, spicy comedy in a show for the ages (with shows running through Saturday, November 18).
T.J. Wilkins stars as Barack Obama, with Shanice as First Lady Michelle Obama. The show opens with a beautiful a capella introduction from Shanice, leading into a full cast chorus of “M.F.O.” (Motherf***ing Obama). The duo shared gorgeous, soulful duets, consistently powerful vocals, and an engaging, palpable stage presence throughout the evening. Shanice delivered an exquisite interpretation of a feisty First Lady including stunning projection and money notes, while Wilkins remained mellow and smooth before adding in some rap lines. In addition to Shanice and Wilkins, performers included Kevin Bailey, Celeste Butler, Larry Cedar, Marquell Edward Clayton, Ally Dixon, Kelley Dorney, Summer Nicole Greer, Scott Kruse, Jane Papageorge, Dino Shorte, Jeff Sumner, and Michael Uribes, with incredible group harmonies and precise cutoffs and transitions from all in the cast.
From Chad Dorek’s standout quirky, memorable portrayal of Joe Biden (eliciting roars of laughter and cheering without so much as a word), to a pole dance striptease from Sarah Palin, Herman Cain’s R&B ballad, and Mitch McConnell ‘morass’ posse (with their iconic Filibuster number), it was nonstop action for two hours (with a brief intermission). Including R&B and Hip Hop—with dancing to match—and poignant, heartfelt ballads (including “My Little Angels”), the cheering crowd was completely mesmerized, before being energized even more with the Abraham Lincoln ‘emancipation disco.’
The live house band, House of Vibe (performing as “The Andrew Jackson Five”) provided a perfectly blended backdrop, with fabulous and tight accompaniment, and musical direction from keyboardist and co-producer Anthony “Brew” Brewster. Showcasing fantastic energy and sensitive, smooth transitions between each act, they added phenomenal polish to the overall production. “Brew” was joined by Greg Raymond (also on keys), Kris Hawkins on Guitar, Corey Cofield on bass, and Phillip “Fish” Fisher on drums.
Quirky, political fun with a gentle undertone of inspiration, the 44 musical delivers a perfect comedic reprieve from the craziness of today, while speaking powerfully to poignant moments of impact in our collective history. An absolute gem.