WHERE: Arena Stage in Washington, DC (July 18th – August 19th)
PROTIP: There are 35% off student tickets and if you are 30-years-old or younger, they have “Pay Your Age” tickets in which you literally pay the price of your age. Additional SRO or bar stool seats also seem to be added a few days before sold out performances.
No public announcement yet as to whether the show will move onto Broadway.
GENERAL: Dave is a musical based on the 1993 Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver classic of the same name in which Dave, an ordinary American and presidential impersonator, stands in for the actual President of the United States. While this musical had been in the works well before the 2016 election, since the election of Donald Trump, the feel-good comedy taking place in a fictional White House could not be more perfectly timed. The show could not have opened at a more perfect time or in a more perfect city or be opening in a more perfect city. While it could be risky to open a presidentially-themed show in Washington, DC, the (perhaps) more politically conscious crowd can appreciate the musical that much more. The political jokes were spot on, perfectly adapted to the current political climate (with a fair share of subtle and one perhaps not-so-subtle Trump reference).
I was seated in the back of the Orchestra Section (view was great) right next to the aisle which was cool because there are multiple instances in the show in which the fourth wall is broken and the cast interacts with the audiences – from asking us to (optionally) stand during a recitation of the national anthem to singing along with the national anthem to shaking the President’s hand to receiving campaign flyers.
The show features a hilarious book by Tony Award winner Thomas Meehan (Annie, Hairspray) and Tony nominee Nell Benjamin (Mean Girls, Legally Blonde), music by Tony winner Tom Kitt (Next to Normal, If/Then), choreography by Tony nominee Sam Pinkleton (Great Comet, Amelie), and lyrics by Benjamin. The show is directed by Tony nominee Tina Landau (SpongeBob SquarePants).
I had the opportunity to watch the fourth preview of the show, which was exciting for me because next time I see the show there definitely could be some changes in the script, songs, staging, etc. Also it was cool because I was seated in the same row as the director (Landau). [back to top]
THE MOVIE vs THE MUSICAL: Minor spoilers are ahead (and throughout the review), but then again, this story has been out for 25 years.
Movies turned into musicals are always a ton of fun for me to watch because I love seeing how the screen translates to the stage. Some shows I had seen the movie before the musical (e.g. Mean Girls, The Lion King) while others I saw the movie after the show (e.g. Waitress, Groundhog Day, and finally Dave).
I saw the movie Dave less than 24 hours after seeing the musical, and both are great. Both follow the same general storyline with some minor details changed in the stage adaptation. For example, Dave Kovic is a school teacher with a Abraham Lincoln obsession in the musical whereas he is a Temp Agency Owner in the movie. Different items are cut from the budget to fund retirement home programs (vs homeless shelters for children in the movie) and the consequences of cutting those items are also different in the show from the movie (not sure if the math adds up exactly, but that could’ve just been the math geek in me half-analyzing things).
The show is brought up to modern times, however, with smartphones and flatscreens and selfies and hashtags. Other modern changing include the famous baseball scene with the est. 2005 Washington Nationals instead of the Baltimore Orioles, President Mitchell’s Chief of Staff is former CIA instead of a former Congressman, and there is a female White House Communications Director and a slightly different post-First-Lady occupation for Ellen Mitchell. However, most of the major scenes are included in the show; the show even manages to include the shower scene and hilariously mimic First Lady Mitchell noticing something different about Dave in the shower just like she did in the movie. There are some minor differences in the show, but most of your favorite parts are still there on the stage. [back to top]
THE CHARACTERS and CAST: The cast was extremely talented. This was my third time seeing Drew Gehling on the stage and he was an absolute star in the show as both Dave Kovic and President Bill Mitchell. I was so excited seeing him do such a phenomenal job on stage – a stage he maintained energy on for what I think was well over 90% of the show. He played the funny awkwardness of Dave perfectly and made the show that much more enjoyable. His range in the show was extremely impressive, going from high to low to high notes seamlessly.
Mamie Parris as leading lady Ellen Mitchell came into the show explosively with powerful vocals, immediately commanding the stage. Beyond amazing vocals, Parris expertly portrayed Ellen with subtle gestures and facial expressions to show how she was slowly figuring out that something was different about her husband.
Douglas Sills was a crowd favorite as stern and somewhat-Trump-like White House Chief of Staff Bob Alexander. Bryonha Marie Parham made audiences fall in love with the new Dave Communication Director Susan Lee through killer vocals and hilarious wit. I couldn’t begin to say how awesome Josh Breckenridge was as Secret Service Agent Duane Bolden. With just one phrase he managed to convey so much meaning and was a hilarious protector of the President.
The ensemble was phenomenally talented and they all looked like they were having a ton of fun on stage. Of special note were Sherri L. Edelen as a White House Tour Guide (I don’t think an audience has ever laughed so hard at the phrase “And we’re walking”), Kevin R. Free as Dave’s hilarious accounting-expert-friend Murray Stein, and Dana Costello, who absolutely slayed over-ad-libbing (seriously though, those notes were impressive) the first half of the national anthem as teen-pop sensation, Montana Jefferson (hmm… that names sounds familiar hmm…)
It was also great to see such a diverse cast in the show — representation in the arts truly matters! [back to top]
THE MUSIC: It’s always hard for me to write about music that I can’t listen to again and again through a recording after the show, as I tend to really enjoy the music more and more doing that. However, I can say that Benjamin’s lyrics are great and the music was overall very enjoyable. There were a few standout pieces and Gehling, Parris, Parham, and Sills were all on point vocally. Of special note was Sills in “Kill That Guy” – a funny and memorable number that everyone well definitely enjoy.
The following goes through the songs in more detail and what goes on in each. Hopefully I am fairly accurate about the context of all the songs. Feel free to skip to the [next section] or go [back to top].
The show’s first song is “There’s Always a Way”, a cute opening Broadway number with the classic heartwarming Broadway-styled feel-good melody setting the stage for both Dave and President Mitchell in the show. In it we get to see Gehling switch back-and-forth between the characters and learn about Dave’s “famous” Lincoln Penny Banks.
“I’m the President” has a patriotic tune to it, for lack of a better phrase, with that classic marching-type beat, in which Dave impersonated President Mitchell for the White House for the first time. It’s hilarious and fun with Chief of Staff Alexander yelling at Dave most of the time. It’s also the song in which President Mitchell has his stroke.
“Bad Example” was a hysterically funny song with Dave, Alexander, and Lee, and definitely one of my favorites in the show. “Hero” is one of Dave’s solos in which (although not the point of the song but was memorable to me) he proclaims both his love for the Gettysburg Address (didn’t know it was only three minutes long until this song!) and his excitement to be staying in the Lincoln bedroom.
“The Last Time I Fake It” was Parris’ explosive entrance as First Lady Mitchell singing how she was done pretending that everything is fine between her and the President. It has a fun almost tango-like tune to it and was an overall jam. It’s filled with comedy as Gehling is stuffed with chocolates and lyrics that play on the irony of Kovic’s first time being with Ellen Mitchell. “A Whole New Man” takes us through Ellen Mitchell’s frustration with everyone seeing a new man in the President when she is not buying that he has changed. This is also the song in which we see Montana Jackson’s hilarious anthem debut.
“Not My Problem” was Duane’s song to shine – explaining to Dave how he has enough problems. “Everybody Needs Some Help Sometime” is a crowd-pleasing song in which Dave as President Mitchell joins the First Lady at her visit to the retirement home and proclaims it a worthy initiative because… well everyone needs help sometimes. “Sake of Argument” is a cute heart-warming duet between the two leads.
The second act’s first song is Chief of Staff Alexander’s phenomenal performance of “Kill That Guy” in which he vents his anger at Dave ruining all of his plans. “Not Again” is another great duet between the First Lady and Dave and how she does not want to be stupid enough to fall for him, not again. The “Whole New Man (Reprise)” is where Dave finds out being the President is harder than he expected. “Presidential Party” is the hilarious song in which Dave has a dream (or nightmare) about former unpopular Presidents convincing him to make certain decisions. “A Little Too Late” is about how it’s too late for Dave and First Lady Mitchell to actually date.
Next is “History”, a powerfully sung solo with Dave singing about all the nuances with History. This song served as his final speech to a nationally televised joint-session of Congress in which “President Bill Mitchell” has a second stroke. The show closes with “It’s On Us”, serving as a motivational message to the audience to not lose hope, and that it’s on us to run for office and to vote! It was powerful, uplifting, upbeat, and a great way to end the show. I definitely felt motivated after it – that one person can make a difference (just as Dave Kovic could make a difference). [back to top]
THE SET and COSTUMES: I think doing costumes for a present-day musical can sometimes be super difficult because what do “normal modern people” wear. But they were spot on and the historical costume for Dave’s dream with former Presidents in it were great, especially of Taft.
The set was really cool. There are these moving walls on stage that… well… they move around the circumference of the circular stage creating compartments and acting as screens for projections. It’s a really cool use of space for a variety of purposes. There are also a few screens to display news clips or show live television of events happening on stage such as TV interviews or Presidential speeches (it was amazing watching how what the actors were doing on stage exactly mimicked what was happening on the screens – I actually believed for a bit that it was a live recording). A great use of technology.
Dave also had the Broadway magic that I’ve grown to love – quick on-stage costume changes or when a person is one place on stage and then is suddenly in another. Gehling does several of these costume changes back-and-forth from Dave to President Mitchell (many all in the same song) and all (but maybe one) are like complete magic. It’s also really awesome how the choreography and staging will draw your eyes to one part of the stage and suddenly Dave appears on the other side and you’re like “woah what how did that happen”. I absolutely love shows with magic like that and it’s always awesome to see it live on the stage. [back to top]
STAGE-DOORING: I went on a Saturday night, the fourth preview, and show two of a four show weekend, in which it was pouring rain (and just day two of nine consecutive rainy days in the DC area). Yet the cast was so incredibly friendly at the stage door. It was just me and another little boy with his Dad. The actors, the boy, his dad, and I were huddling and sharing umbrellas and working together to make sure the little boy’s poster didn’t get wet. It was adorable and the cast was all extremely kind. The rain prevented conversations from lasting too long, but it was great to say thanks to everyone and I could tell everyone was just really excited to be part of such an awesome show.
Gehling was extremely kind as always and we caught up briefly as we’ve been doing the past few shows we have met up at. We also took a commemorative selfie (maybe a #SelfiesWithDrew Instagram page needs to get going hmm). [back to top]
OVERALL: A must see if you are in the DC area (though, for the record, one couple did drive down from NYC just to see the show on that Saturday night so geography isn’t too much of an excuse). Given the current political climate, the humor is just that much funnier, and you’ll leave the show a great feeling. That’s what awesome theatre is all about.
I really do hope the show does make it to Broadway – Gehling shines on stage, the cast is talented, and the creative team who put together the show did a killer job. It’s a story that everyone could use right about now. · [back to top]
Follow me on Instagram @ananteaterblog for more reviews and subscribe to the blog for updates.
If you liked this review, you might also like…
…A review of another show that opened in Washington, DC with lyrics by Benjamin: Mean Girls (Pre-Broadway Run)
…A review of another show directed by Landau: SpongeBob SquarePants (Broadway)
…A review of another show in the DC area: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Kennedy Center)
…A great restaurant in DC: Sfoglina Pasta House