A musical parody of the 1998 White House sex scandal, featuring two actors portraying the 'naughty' and 'nice' personas of Bill Clinton, makes its US debut.
But it remains to be seen if Clinton: The Musical can replicate on US soil the critical success it reaped in the UK, where it’s been described as "witty, quirky" and a "delicious political satire". For one, this is the country where Lewinskygate (also known as Monicagate, Cigargate, Zippergate) actually happened.
When American audiences see it for the first time on Jul 18, as part of this year's New York Musical Theatre Festival programme, it's anyone's guess whether the musical — which depicts Bill and Hillary Clinton’s attempts to save the presidency following the unravelling of his affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky — will be impeached or exonerated.
"Our play is a loving poke at Bill Clinton," said Duke LaFoon, who portrays the 'naughty' Billy — the one who gets caught with his pants down. "He is quite the character, so there is a lot there to mine for jokes."
Meanwhile, Karl Kenzler, who plays the 'nice' William Jefferson, the idealistic politician who genuinely wants to change the country and help his fellow man, said: "Ultimately this show is a sharp farce. It’s a parody and people make a lot of comparisons to South Park and The Book of Mormon," referring to the animated TV series and hit Broadway play.
Written by Australian brothers Paul and Michael Hodge, Clinton: The Musical was originally performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland in 2012 where it was nominated for Best New Musical. Later, it transferred for a brief run at the King’s Head Theatre in London in 2013. In New York, the musical will play for seven shows — its longest run yet — ending on Jul 25.
The musical’s premiere in New York comes hot on the heels of the publication of Hillary Clinton’s memoir Hard Choices. The hype that accompanied the book's promotional tour led to political pundits saying it’s her opening bid to seek the US presidency in 2016.
"When she is asked specifically about the scandal her answer is, 'I'm over that,'" said Alet Taylor, who plays Hillary. "She wants to move forward, so I don't know that our musical represents moving forward, but I think she is aware of it."
The Clintons have kept mum on the musical, not responding to requests for comment about the show. Aside from the former first couple, there are also portrayals of Lewinsky, former Republican Congressman Newt Gingrich and Kenneth Starr, the special prosecutor who issued a report on the scandal.
Paul Hodge decided to write the musical after seeing a play in Australia with his family about a former Australian prime minister. The idea emerged when his father suggested that Clinton’s story would make a great musical.
Hodge was initially reluctant about having two actors play the former US leader, as suggested by his brother. Then he read Clinton’s 2004 autobiography, My Life. "He, himself, said he felt like he had led these two parallel lives and other people like his political advisor Dick Morris had little names for him like 'Saturday night Bill' and 'Sunday morning president' or the 'the boy scout and the politician,'" said Hodge.
Director Adam Arian collaborated with Hodge for nearly a year to bring the musical to the US. "I think Bill Clinton has a certain humanity that endears him to people and that he has both strengths and weaknesses and I think people understand that he is a human being," said Hodge. — Reuters