It’s pretty hard to look away from the events in this country as late, and it’d be a surprise to find anyone who didn’t at least have an elementary grasp on the timeline since Donald Trump was elected to office as President. That decision and the fallout from it have more or less haunted our every moment, our Twitter feed and life in general. Obviously, it wasn’t a popular decision, and though many of us have taken to the internet, tv and stage to say it, not so many of us have constructed a musical timeline. That’s exactly what Flying Elephant Productions has done though, and they’re performing it for all who will listen at Stage 773. We the People: An Anti-Trump Musical is exactly what it sounds like, for better or worse, no more or no less. Six actors represent 55 of “the people” and tell their stories in song.
As to be the case with these types of send-ups (see: Winner of Our Discontent) our first glimpse back takes a cold look at blind optimism and hope that cooler heads and common decency prevail, and the general shock of much of the country when it didn’t. It’s a little painful and seems almost too soon, but necessary to set up the rest of the 65-minute tragedy in song. Individual voices stand out here, and a particularly poignant and meaty song about what to tell your children and the failure of the current administration to set good examples for our kids is sung more than capably by Elizabeth Rentfro. In fact, all the voices involved in We the People are crystal clear and strong, as it should be for any musical. Dwayne Everett in particular stood out as one of the strongest and most sonorous in the group, also bringing much of the musical’s humor to life with expert timing. Songs are catchy and lyrics often include at least a touch of humor, though some are more aspirationally inclined. Leo Schwartz, who wrote the music and lyrics, can be credited here for such earworms as the titular “We the People,”a full bodied classic Broadway anthem.
Interstitials in the show usually serve to advance the timeline and give the audience a better idea of where we’ve arrived in the past year. One particularly eye-opening and interesting take was the Twitter portion of the evening, with certain characters representing different ideological groups all convinced Trump was tweeting for their benefit or to their detriment, specifically, instead of the outward expression of his own navel gazing. The book, written by Sean Chandler, has some good ideas and interesting takes on the turns of events, but they never feel quite fully developed, or particularly fresh. With so much material and so many trying to get a hot take on it, even Patton Oswalt recognizes the difficulty of elevating Trumpian comedy, so we can’t place blame fully on anyone’s shoulders when things fall a little flat.
With a short run time and at a place known for its quirk and sense of humor, we expected We the People to be a fun romp and roast of these last 12 months of Trump. Easily digestible, full of laughs and fun to chime in and sing along with. It was all of those things at one time or another, but never enough to really capture the audience. Sure, some of the songs were catchy, and the points made were good ones, but nothing stood out as particularly original or groundbreaking, and though there is often much humor to be dragged out of pain, it didn’t seem to be spilling over too often here. What this amounted to for me was an overwhelming feeling of “meh.” I wanted more—perhaps more playfulness, more inspiration, more …something. Unfortunately, it wasn’t there. I don’t doubt that for a group of people as musically and theatrically talented as this one, it could surface at some point, but that just didn’t seem to happen in our time with them for this show. Though this may not have been the breakout show Flying Elephant was looking for, we’re more than ready to see them in another production, which we’ve heard may be coming this summer and focusing on another controversial figure—Michael Jackson.
Will you enjoy this performance? Likely yes, but not in a more dynamic way than you will seeing Melissa McCarthy zoom around on a motorized podium or Alec Baldwin nail a Trump impression perfectly on SNL. If you like musicals, this might be a take you want to get, but were we to do it over again, we might opt out for the comforts of home and the Daily Show to ease our Trump-related pain.
We the People: The Anti-Trump Musical is presented by Flying Elephant Productions and performed at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont. Tickets are $40 and the play will run through February 10. For more information and to purchase tickets, click here.