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A CurtainUp Review

Election Day

Every woman who comes through here sleeps with my father -- except my mother.
--- Chadwick Goodrich about his roving-eyed father, the man currently occupying the White House oval office.
There's much to be said for the grumbling about the endless workshop/reading process that new plays and musicals must go through before actually being put before a real audience. Sometimes the best chance to fine tune a new show is to get it on stage. However, testing out a show before an adventurous public is one thing and inviting the press to publish their opinion of a brief showcase run is another.

The Atlantic Theater's Second Stage project supports fully staged productions by young playwrights but keeps out the press to give these plays the best chance for a future life. (See our recently posted feature The Other Atlantic). Kelly Van Zile, producing director for Joint-Ed Stock Theatre Alliance, would have done well to follow this no press staging policy with Election Day, the new musical now running at the American Theatre of Actors through January 30th.

Joel Stein has written a few catchy tunes with less than catchy lyrics by him and book writer Alex Goldberg. That book desperately needs a hand from someone with a sense for more original, less convoluted plot and silly characters. As it stands, Election Day is hobbled by a plot and characterizations that haul out every political character cliche in the book. The over-cooked plot developments that extend this show well beyond its intended 2 hour length include a whacky visit from and to the ruler of a small banana republic.

Watching this wannabe musical satire in the same venue where Urinetown enjoyed a triumphant pre-Broadway run (our review) makes it impossible to keep unfavorable comparisons at bay. Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis, the young creative team for that show, demonstrated satire at its most insouciant and original best. Goldberg and Stein, unfortunately haven't managed make the leap from broad, collegiate romp to sophisticated spoofery. Director Laurie Sales' use of the elevated walkways much as Urinetown director John Rando did only underscores the shortcomings of the current venture.

And so we have a play about an election between an incumbent president who's better than he seems and a bumbling but also good-hearted opponent. To add to the complications, there's a seductive intern (with a Jewish name just in case you don't immediately don't connect her to Monica) who is planted in the oval office by a manic Bill Gates-like campaign manager for the opposition -- not to mention the banana republic business which allows the president to make his wife the ambassador as well as a lame subplot about some revolutionary Middlebury college classmate of the president's son. Unlike Urinetown, which began and ended as a pitch black comedy, Election Day ends on a note as bright, patriotic and corny as the red, white and blue set.

The mostly equity cast gives its all, but in most cases it isn't enough. Ian Kahn, best known as Sarah Jessica Parker's perfect man on Sex and the City does his best with President Goodrich. Michele Ragusa, who won our New Jersey critic's praises for her recent appearance in She Loves Me (the Papermill Playhouse review), adds a good deal of spunk and a fine voice as a non-nonsense White House aide.

When I went to last Saturday's press preview, people were admitted late because the cast was still rehearsing. Maybe this ongoing rehearsal process will at least pare things down to just one instead of three endings.

Election Day
Book and Lyrics: Alex Goldberg
Music & Lyrics: Joel Stein
Directed by Laurie Sales
Choreography by Christine O'Grady
Cast: Robert Scott Denny, Shane Desmond, Jeremy Ellison-Gladstone, Ian Kahn, Jonathan C. Kaplan, Jennifer J. Katz, Rick Kiley, Alison Mahoney, Meghan McGeary, Jane C. Pejterson, Michelle Ragusa, Tom Richter, Bones Rodriguez, Monica Yudovich.
Set Design: Aloys Spack
Costume Design: Zoe Hamburger
Lighting Design: Jack Jacobs
Band: Keyboards and musical direction by Joel Stein; Electric Guitar, George Kapalis; Electri Bass, Mike Speranza; Drums and Percussions, Brandon Miller; Winds, Luke Batson
Running time: Approximately 2 1/2 hours plus intermission.
American Theatre of Actors, 314 W. 54th St. (8/9 Avenues) 212/868-4444
From 1/14/05 to 1/30/05; opening 1/19/05
Tickets: $15
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on January 15th performance
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