For a comic, the big question is “How do you make fun of Barack Obama?”. Barack Stars, The Second City’s new revue now playing at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, answers that question and more with an hilarious evening of biting wit sure to please anyone with a functioning funny bone.
As serious fans of comedy know, Chicago’s legendary Second City troupe is a national treasure now celebrating its 50th year. Its talented alumni (such as John Belushi, Bill Murray, John Candy, Mike Myers, Tina Fey, and Steve Carell, to name a few) have had an indelible impact on the world of comedy. Over time the company has expanded to new cities and supported an increasingly active number of touring productions.
Given its Chicago roots, it is only logical that The Second City would seize the opportunity to develop a show featuring President Obama (Sam Richardson). While this Obama does enjoy flowery rhetoric and proclaims “My Presidency is about symbols and gimmicks,” most of the Obama humor comes from the reactions of other people to him. His supporters celebrate Obama’s virgin birth and expect him to solve all of the world’s problems, all while turning guns into gumdrops and shooting rainbows from his eyes. Still others can barely admit aloud that we now have a black President and are left to sing plaintively “Why is everybody always picking on the white guys?”
A funnier political figure is the tiny but terrifying Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s chief of staff (Seth Weitberg). He is the one person who can whip the White House staff into shape and defeat evil and Republicans. Other political figures who appear in the fast-paced evening of skits include Vice President Biden, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Governor Mark Sanford, and former President Abraham Lincoln (a special friend,it turns out, of President Obama).
While most of the humor is topical and some of it is political, some of the comedy deals with simpler day-to-day problems and fears: a man compares his problems with a cab driver from Gaza and another where students confront their fear of public speaking (and rightly so as the sketch evolves). The show moves so quickly that even when a scene isn’t fully successful, you hardly notice because the troupe has moved on to another amusing bit.
Fans of The Second City will be pleased to know that almost all of the humor in this latest show is new. The only sketch reprised from a touring company’s last appearance in the DC area at Wolf Trap involves a romance between a soldier and a Muslim girl with a protective father that turns into a “Dirty Dancing” parody. That inspired skit is such a keeper that its repeat is welcome.
As you might expect, the entire ensemble cast (whose other members are Lilly Allison, Brooke Bagnall, Abby McEnany, and Tim Sniffen) is extremely talented and funny. Each has memorable moments in the show while showing great versatility in changing between characters. Musical director Jesse Case also makes essential contributions to the comic atmosphere.
Most of the humor is rehearsed, but the company does allow for audience input into improvisational bits on a few occasions. McEnany is very funny as a soldier responding to audience suggestions on how to keep more gays in the military. Allison and Bagnall are great at establishing a multi-part logic chain from one audience suggestion to another topic. Finally, be sure to stay for the encore in which two opposing political candidates give speeches while trying to guess words suggested by audience, aided only by mime from their castmates and audience clapping.
The opportunity to have such a talented comedy company as The Second City premiere a new show in DC is a rare treat for local audiences. Between the fame of the company, and the short run, the shows are likely to sell out.
By The Second City
Musical Direction by Jesse Case
Directed by Marc Warzecha
Presented by Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company
Reviewed by Steven McKnight
* Woolly box office: 202-393-3939
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