Thursday, April 7, 2016

Review: Vote for Palin!

Riding high on the wave of network musical specials, the Laurie Beechman Theater is eager to give you the telecast you never knew you wanted. In Palin LIVE!, Sarah Palin and her colorful political comrades are brought to the stage for a Policabaret. Written and performed by Erica Vlahinos, Palin LIVE! is a loving spoof that marries politics, comedy, and showtunes.
In an alternate universe where Sarah Palin replaces Donald Trump for the 2016 Republican nomination, to boost ratings and votes, Palin gets to tell her story for the American people via a television special. Through song, dance, and story spewing, Palin tries to find the heart of every Joe Sixpack by appealing to them through theatrics. Written and performed by Erica Vlahinos with special help from Kyle Branzel as the reluctant Michael Feinstein and Courter Simmons as everyone else, Palin LIVE! is a comedic celebration that pokes fun at America’s favorite former Alaskan Governor. Playing with parodies of Broadway classics like “Nothing” from A Chorus Line, “The Wizard and I” from Wicked, and “You Could Drive a Person Crazy” from Company, Vlahinos puts a Palin twist by adapting the lyrics for laugh-out-loud and jaw-dropping moments. Palin LIVE is an example of smart writing. Vlahinos used Palin's dialect to her advantage, focusing on words that hit the funny. Palin has a specific speech pattern that makes her a living spoof and Vlahinos capitalized on it. Her parody play with the lyrics was at its strongest with the broader cannon of music. Some of the deep cut additions didn’t seem to resonate as much. But once Branzel played the opening chords to the well-known songs, the laughs were instantaneous. For the most part, the journey that Vlahinos takes is strong. There is a “Best of Palin” element, highlighting some of her wilder moments. But she also offers a moment of humanity. And that was a strong choice. For many, Sarah Palin is a caricature but deep down there is a human. Whether you agree or not with the things she says, she is a person. Vlahinos explored her vulnerability allowing a truly sentimental moment. It broke up the comedic monotony well. Even though it runs a little under ninety minutes, the pacing slowed down a bit with the Bristol beat. Vlahinos spent a little too long talking about Bristol that halted some of the forward progression. It would be a beat that could be eliminated.
Palin LIVE may be a parody but the Sarah Palin on stage was genuine. As a performer, Erica Vlahinos did a supreme job creating her own Sarah Palin. Tina Fey has virtually locked up the Palin impression yet Vlahinos avoided playing Fey playing Palin. It was incredibly important. Vocally, Vlahinos could likely sing the songbook. Her tone is pure with the ability to soar with any of the original tunes. What makes her a strong performer is she allowed the comedy to come naturally and subtly. While it could have gone in that direction, Vlahinos never pandered. If a laugh didn’t come, she moved right along. Tackling an assortment of roles from Trump to Hillary, Courter Simmons offered nothing but fun. Seeing as it was Sarah’s show, he rarely tried to one up the star. Music Director Kyle Branzel offered his acting chops by taking on Michael Feinstein, who didn’t know he was being paired up with Palin. His shining moment was his riff on the late, great “Smash” anthem “Let Me Be Your Star.”
Director Ben Cameron helped make Palin great again. Cameron guided the Maverick of Melody to victory, which thankfully is not the White House. There was rarely a breath of dead air. With characterization playing a powerfully important part in the play’s success, Cameron steered the cast through parody and humility. The stage of the Laurie Beechman is awfully small yet Cameron wondrously utilized it. Between a Palin for President podium and an oversized armchair alongside the grand piano, the cast had somewhere to go at all times thankfully avoiding static.
No matter your political affiliation, it’s important to find a laugh or two in politics. And Palin LIVE! will certainly deliver. Erica Vlahinos has offered an entertaining evening that almost makes you want to be best pals with this maverick. Well, her version at least.