Reviewing Theatre For Over 40 Years
Pacing Makes, and Breaks, “How Obama Got His Groove Back” at Fremont Centre Theatre
It’s been over a year since City In a Swamp productions created their first improv-ish send-up of the Obama administration. “Oh Momma and Obama,” a cheerful spoof, had our President wrangling with his mother-in-law while his two daughters worked on creatively disruptive bits of revolution of their own.
Now the same group, give or take a performer or two, is back at Fremont Centre Theatre in South Pasadena with an election-cycle addition. “How Obama Got His Groove Back” has Mr. Obama tired of the Presidency, having discovered it to be more fun to run for the office than to occupy it with an obstinate Congress in the way.
As Obama decides to hand his duties over to his wife, and become a classic R&B singer, Mitt Romney decides to take improv classes in order to look and sound more relaxed. Add to this a fair amount of jokes regarding the Secret Service and hookers, and a brief and rather odd appearance by North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un. Think of it all in terms of the good and bad aspects of a standard Saturday Night Live skit, and you’ve pretty much imagined what takes place here.
The piece was written by Derek Jeremiah Reid and Nicholas Zill, though “written” is a loose term when dealing with a group which adds an element of improvisation to each performance. Reid also plays Obama, and his clear and consistent send-up of the President is perhaps one of the best things about this production. Constance Reese’s warm, if frustrated, Michelle Obama is also solid, as is Phillip Wilburn, who plays three parts but is most effective as a sort of wind-up-doll Mitt Romney.
Also in the cast are Courtney DeCosky as a vapid Ann Romney, and Brent Pope, most memorable as Kim. Natascha Corrigan is an edgy Hillary Clinton and a startlingly accurate Sarah Palin, while Christopher Robert Smith appears as a rather one-note Joe Biden and a very funny Bill Clinton, and Kim Mulligan proves best as a hooker looking for back payment.
What works about this show is the specific caricatures. What works least well, at least in the first half, is the pacing.
The problem with “How Obama…” is a first act made up of tiny sketches or bits. This would be fine on TV or in an improv theater’s setting where you wouldn’t have to change sets, but doesn’t work here because you do. Each set change – and there are 11 in the first hour – brings the momentum to a halt, and momentum is the essence of comedy. The second act, where nearly the same time length involves only 3 set changes, is more effective and far funnier.
Highlights of the show include Mitt in that improv class, or joined by Ann singing a delicious parody of Graham Nash’s “Our House.” Also particularly affective is an elaborate farcical sequence involving Secret Service agents, a Columbian prostitute, Bill Clinton, Michelle Obama and a Kindle with “50 Shades of Gray” on it. Also worth a listen is the sound track, which includes all kinds of R&B tunes from the 70s and 80s.
In short, “How Obama Got His Groove Back” is just good enough so that it should have been better. As it stands it is somewhat self-consciously funny, and very choppy as it begins. If it relaxed a little – if the frenetic pace of the first act relaxed and the jokes were allowed to mature throughout as they do in the second act, it could be a real keeper. As it is, hang in there. You’ll laugh at grown-up jokes (as opposed to, so help me, fart jokes) after intermission.
What: “How Obama Got His Groove Back” When: Through October 7, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays Where: Fremont Centre Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave. in South Pasadena How Much: $30 general, $25 students Info: (866) 811-4111 or http://www.fremontcentretheatre.com