“Does Fox News have a theater critic?” I wondered, after viewing Second City Theatricals’ “Rush Limbaugh! The Musical.” Probably not. Live theater may be deemed too effete for their NASCAR- and gun sports-loving audiences.
If they had, I’m sure he’d have panned this show. As a card-carrying member of the Big-City, Blue-State, Liberal Press, though, I found it mostly funny but uneven.
“Rush Limbaugh! The Musical” is no “Jerry Springer: The Opera.” The new show from playwrights Ed Furman and T.J. Shanoff and director Matt Hovde, the team behind the wildly popular “Rod Blagojevich Superstar!” is more of an extended comedy sketch with songs than a full-blown musical comedy. Little more in the way of set or costumes features than you’d see in a typical Second City revue and, despite some clever lyrics and one or two good voices, the show isn’t really about the music, which is largely borrowed from Broadway musicals like “Grease,” “Wicked” and “Rent.”
With a “Lion King”-like cadence, Karla L. Beard, the only really fine singer, narrates this humorous, highly fictionalized but only slightly exaggerated look back at arch-Conservative radio shock jock Limbaugh’s career, from the near-future date of 2014 to 1968, when the young Rush was “Holding On to the ’50s” while berating dirty hippies embodied by Hillary Rodham (later, Clinton) and Barney Frank. Steered by the Rev. Rightwing, Rush embraces Christian catchphrases (“You Can’t Argue with Jesus”) and gathers followers and power.
The script is liberally, ahem, sprinkled with real Rushisms, including a musical number (“Our Man Rush”) made up of quotations, but the Limbaugh it lampoons is a lightweight straw man, rather than the weighty character he should be. The musical rarely shows Rush in full stride — outrageous, loud-mouthed and undeniably charismatic — perhaps because the creators feared their expected audiences couldn’t stand it. I confess I’ve never been able to listen to enough of the real thing to be able to catch Mark Sutton out in any missteps, but he seems to have his impersonation down pat otherwise.
We also see very little of Ann Coulter, which is probably just as well. Colleen Murray effectively doubles as Coulter and Clinton; Cayne Collier and Bumper Carroll channel Abbott and Costello as the bumbling duo of Donald Rumsfeld and Karl Rove; and Kevin Sciretta is hilariously apt as Barney Frank.
Mirroring present-day Washington’s misguided and ineffectual efforts at bipartisanship, the musical takes as many cracks at the left as at the right, with jibes about liberals’ wimpiness (“Democrats are F—ed”); vulgar, gay-baiting double entendres mouthed by Frank; and increasingly strident depictions of a flouted, power-hungry Hillary Clinton.
That’s another trouble with the show: We’ve heard many of these jokes before.
Still, if you have any interest in current events at all, there’s plenty to enjoy, and two songs alone are worth the price of admission, the “Oxycontin” calypso and “La Vie Conservative,” a parody of “Rent’s” “La Vie Boheme” that recounts conservative bywords from Terri Schiavo to Joe the Plumber.