In President Harding is a Rock Star, President Harding is a rock star.
The stage is that of a rock concert, set with everything you’d expect to find at a show: drums, a keyboard, a couple guitars. All of this, of course, is manned by musicians. The guitarist has a black choker, a long wig that hangs over his eyes and a bandana that he continuously wraps around the mic. The rest of the musicians are dressed in similar rock garb.
Then Warren G. Harding (Andrew Lloyd Baughman) comes out. There’s no use in describing his outfit: this is something that begs to be seen in person. Alas, journalistic duty calls: he’s wearing an America cape, what I believe to be an American codpiece and some slick leather pants. He begins to sing, along with his wife Flossy (Justine Hall) about his meteoric rise.
Now, I’m going to attempt to describe the play, even though it’s a bit of a waste of time. We watch Harding rise from being a small-time town player to being a hard-living president. We see him cheat on Flossy with any number of cute young things, gamble away cabinet positions after getting hammered and do bad coke with Napoleon and Alexander Hamilton. While doing said coke, those three recount their sexual conquests.
One song is sung “in the key of De-ranged.” Herbert Hoover is the strait man, a curmudgeon who doesn’t think Harding should be doing coke, banging anyone he sees or gambling away cabinet positions. He handles history with a laugh and a scowl, which didn’t always bode well with the audience. An African-American woman stormed out of our production when Harding is questioned by his wife’s father for “being a negro” .
That’s about when things turn sour. Old Alex Hamilton calling Harding a “giant fuck-up” for the Teapot Dome scandal, which brings about the end of the play in a heart-breaking couple of ballads.
The rock songs are a complete blast, and it doesn’t hurt that it’s held on the one stage at Fringe Fest that allows its patrons to bring beers in, adding to the rock atmosphere. Flossy’s voice reaches the rafters and raises the hair of pretty much anyone and everyone in the theatre.
The show does an odd job of offering a new look at history, and it gives a lot of history throughout its many rock songs and odd, lewd interludes.
But it does have some downfalls as well. At least in the production I caught, the actors weren’t always audible, talking or singing. The music, at times, overwhelmed the voices. At other times, the actors simply didn’t enunciate well enough for the audience to follow.
These are small quibbles, honestly, since it’s not always totally necessary for following the story. This is more of a vibe play, based on hard drinking and hard living. Still, I feel like a few jokes were unnecessarily missed.
Quibbles aside, if you’re a fan of rock music, hard living or history, this the show you need to see at the Fringe Fest.
President Harding Is a Rock Star has 6 shows, ending July 28, 2010, at the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent at Fort Fringe, 607 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC.
Details and tickets
Travis rates this 4 out of a possible 5.