Les Freres Corbusier
Jennifer Rogien & Aaron Lemon-Strauss, Producers
PRESIDENT HARDING IS A ROCK STAR
Music and Text by KYLE JARROW
HERE Arts Center, 145 Sixth Avenue, NYC, July 11 through August 3, 2003
Directed by ALEX TIMBERS
Sets DAVID EVANS MORRIS
Lighting JULIET CHIA
Costumes CAROLINE DUNCAN
Stage Manager KATHERINE WEST
Press Consultant CORINNE ZADIK
Press Representative MELIS BILGIN, THE BRUCE COHEN GROUP
Jacob Grigolia-Rosenbaum as Alexander Hamilton/Albert Fall/Al Jolson
Ryan Karels as Harry Daugherty
Damian Long as Amos Kling/Herbert Hoover
Elizabeth Meriwether as Nan Britton
Gerardo Rodriguez as Napoleon/Jess Smith
Caesar Samayoa as Warren G. Harding
Nandita Shenoy as Rosa Hoyle
Simone Zamore as Florence Harding
Kyle Jarrow – Piano
Michael Tapper – Drums
Alan Wilkis – Guitar
Straight from the annals of our collective presidential pasts comes a feisty new musical comedy based on the antics of the late Warren G. Harding aptly called PRESIDENT HARDING IS A ROCK STAR. Remember him? Recall the Teapot Dome Scandal? No? Well, just consider him the kind of guy that Bill Clinton cannot even be compared to. Spend just over an hour with W.G., and Bill’s unlit cigar seems like a minor transgression. Really.
Past and present merge with rock score accompaniment as we meet the bawdy Harding. He gropes, he fucks, he drinks, he hallucinates, and he sings, sings, sings. Expounding on the fact that Harding was in a band prior to being elected president in 1920, the clever author, Kyle Jarrow, envisions this controversial leader as the rock star of the White House. Real episodes, like Harding’s gambling away of the White House china during a drunken card game, are interspersed with clever concoctions that bend time and explore Harding’s state of mind. In one great scene, Harding snorts cocaine with Alexander Hamilton and Napoleon Bonaparte as the latter recounts love-making to Josephine atop a mountain of corpses most enthusiastically. In another scene, most akin to the crazy life-size lobster assault in John Waters film, MULTIPLE MANIACS, the audience experiences Harding’s recurring dream of being embraced by a life-size crab.
Combining the theory that Florence Harding was responsible for her husband’s sudden death in 1923, and that Harding may have died of ptomaine poisoning after a serving of bad crab, PRESIDENT HARDING IS A ROCK STAR introduces a dutiful wife who force-feeds her philandering husband with crab. Harding is harassed by his mistresses, the 17-year-old Nan Britton in particular (with whom he fathered a child), his Cabinet and his cohorts as his life and presidency degrade beyond the point of no return.
Kyle Jarrow’s eye for the irony of history must make his former teachers proud. Most impressive here, however, is his ear for music, melody and the ability to meld these senses with his own sense of humor. The songs kick ass. Most notable is the fabulous Simone Zamore, who, as Florence Harding, belts out the tunes in a way that captivates the crowd and leaves one wanting more. Paired with period yet rock & roll garb, the "I LOVE Myself" all-Harding, all the time set, the live band, and Alex Timbers’ rocking pacing, the package comes together in one fast and furious jolt.
Based on historical fact, popular innuendo and imbued with the kind of dramatic license that inspired comedy allows, PRESIDENT HARDING IS A ROCK STAR plays like a history lesson on acid. With a tiny bit of polish, some more production money and a little more elbow room to get the action going, this is one new show that could really be going places.
- Kessa De Santis -