By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor
“Dave” is hilarious—well acted and sung by an across-the-board terrific cast! The music and lyrics by Tom Kitt, Thomas Meehan and Nell Benjamin are immediately singable and first-rate! It’s joyful, hopeful, current, but not without pathos, too. The set by Dane Laffrey is totally genius—movable half-round walls encircle each other, creating rooms, corridors, and projection screens–which cunningly label the locations of scenes in the White House, hospital, etc. and supply entertaining and informative backgrounds for each scene.
I loved it and was inspired by it, and I want to run Drew Gehling (Dave) for President–NOW! Hey! I’ve done my review! Boom. But wait, there’s more! Let me tell you about this completely delightful and bitingly witty show and why you need to run to Arena Stage to see it! It’s on only through August 19.
First, a little background: this is a World Premiere and I believe the out-of-town tryout for a show with Broadway aspirations. It’s being produced at Arena Stage by special arrangement with Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, The Donners’ Company and Larger Than Life. It’s based on the Warner Bros. motion picture of the same name. Most of the cast members with a few exceptions are New York actors and singers, as are the creative team leads. That said, Washington, DC’s Arena Stage and its accommodating Kreeger Theatre is the perfect setting for this delicious effort! When you see it, you’ll understand why, but mainly, Arena Stage’s location is just down the street from The White House, and all the action on the stage happens in “our hometown!” The audience here in this town has an investment in what they are seeing onstage, and you can feel it in the low chuckles, then guffaws greeting the brilliant topical dialogue and songs. But out-of-towners will love this show, too, because we ALL have an investment in our government, and by extension, this town and the public officials and just plain folks who work and live here.
Speaking of the songs, the singers, especially Drew Gehling (Dave, the everyman who in this lovely fairy tale is asked to impersonate the President, Bill Mitchell), was last seen as Dr. Pomatter in the tony Award-nominated musical “Waitress” on Broadway. He literally sings and dances his way into our hearts. He’s charismatic and totally believable and with the star of a recent production of “Cats” on Broadway, Mamie Parris (Ellen Mitchell) as the first lady, they sing and act up a storm. But I must admit I am partial to the bad guy, Douglas Sills (Chief of Staff Bob Alexander), who totally takes the stage by storm, manipulates everyone within reach, and with a tsunami of emotion sings how he’s going to “Kill That Guy”! Brings down the house!!!! Of course, this makes us abhor him, but we can’t look away, either! My favorite role of his prior to this one was the unforgettable Percy in “The Scarlet Pimpernel”, which I saw on Broadway. Also of note, Bryonha Marie Parham, who slays as Susan Lee (the President’s Communications Director) and who was last seen here and on Broadway in “Ragtime,” and Josh Breckenridge (Duane Bolden, the Secret Service Agent assigned to the President), who has the most impact per spoken word…I’m not going to tell you…but it’s a great role and he can sing!
The smaller roles are cast ingeniously and they almost steal the show away from Dave, Bob, and Ellen. One such role is played by Dana Costello (Reporter/Montana Jefferson/Ensemble) who almost literally gets vocally carried away while singing the National Anthem. Her vocal pyrotechnics are impressive and her range is not just astounding, but beautiful! It’s a tiny role and gets a standing ovation (you’ll see why)! And Sherri L. Edelen, as always, kills in tiny roles (I lost count of how many she had). She’s a home-town actor and singer and always brings her best to whatever role she has, large or small. But in her “Taft” fat suit and beard, honestly, you will laugh until you cry! And that production number, Presidential Party, with its incredible choreography by Sam Pinkleton (“Great Comet of 1812”) is simply not to be missed! Also, Rob Berman (the fabulous “Encores!” series at New York City Center) and his nine piece orchestra carry the show on its rollicking way.
I wish I had space to talk about each cast member and all the creative team, too. So, other members of this marvelous cast of actors include: Jenny Ashman, Jared Bradshaw, Josh Breckenridge, Trista Dollison, Rachel Flynn, Kevin R. Free, Adam J. levy, Erin Quill, Jonathan Dayson, Jamison Scott and Vishal Vaidya. The entire creative team has big-time Broadway chops and they include Tina Landau (Director), Michael Starobin (Orchestrator), Toni-Leslie James (Costume Designer), Japhy Weideman (Lighting Designer), Walter Trarbach (Sound Designer), Peter Nigrini (Projection Designer) and Robert-Charles Vallance (Wig Designer).
Tickets and Performance Information: “Dave” runs now through August 19 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theatre. For tickets and information go to www.ArenaStage.org or call 202-488-3300. The running time is two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.