Politics is laughing matter in ‘Of Thee I Sing’
Story by Laurie Merrill
Photos by Darryl Webb
GCU News Bureau
“Of Thee I Sing,” opening Friday night at Ethington Theatre, offers an energetic diversion from real life with a superbly acted political satire designed to keep you smiling, laughing and humming.
It’s a show filled with amusing one-liners, catchy tunes and memorable lyrics, a grand spectacle of entertainment that harkens back to a different time while conveying universal themes. It gives the audience a delightful reason to laugh at a fictional presidential campaign.
The delight comes in all forms, from the 1930s-era costumes, a stage filled with stars and stripes, humor ranging from subtle to slapstick, singing that is at once beautiful and hummable, and a cast full of actors who clearly enjoy the art of comedy.
“This is a political satire set in the ’30s, but it is far more than that,” said College of Fine Arts and Production Dean Claude Pensis, the show’s director and lighting designer. “It’s amazing how some of the topics that are lampooned are still with us today.”
The show, first performed in 1931, won a Pulitzer Prize and is from a book by George Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind. The music is by George Gershwin, with lyrics by Ira Gershwin.
The show opens with a musical overture and quickly leads into the action, which is raucous and funny. The scene is a hotel room filled with members of an unnamed political party who just nominated their presidential ticket.
The audience is taken back to a time when men wore hats and carried cigars, when they glad-handed one another and spoke, mostly in New York City accents, in quick witticisms.
For example, when Alexander Throttlebottom appears in the hotel room, no one recognizes him. He insists that he is the vice presidential candidate.
“Alexander, what is your first name?” one asks.
“That is my foist name!” says the character (Levi Roberts), using a common New York City mispronunciation of the word “first.”
Then Throttlebottom attempts to resign from the ticket “on account of his mother.”
“He’s got a mother?” another cracks.
The jokes continue all the way through, some eliciting belly laughs, and a few have a bite.
For example, when we first meet presidential candidate John Wintergreen (Alexander Dubois), he immediately announces he is ready to do any dirty work.
One of the committee members quotes former President Abe Lincoln: “You can’t fool all the people all the time.”
“It’s different now,” Wintergreen says. “People are bigger suckers.”
The men eat pickles and drink soda as they brainstorm a winning platform.
“We’ve got to get something that will sweep the country!” one cries.
“Our country could use a good sweeping!” responds another.
The issue is settled by a hotel maid, who said she likes “love.”
Committee members turn to Wintergreen. “You’ve got to fall in love with a typical American girl! … You’ll be swept into the office on a tidal wave of love!”
Newspaper man Matthew Fulton (Gavin Harris) declares there will be a “love” headline every day in every newspaper.
The singing and dancing is rousing and enhanced by the angelic soprano of Grace Henderson, who plays Mary Turner, the non-beauty contestant who wins Wintergreen’s heart with corn muffins.
Wintergreen was supposed to marry beauty contestant winner Diana Deveraux (Devaune Bohall). His choice of Mary Turner sparks an international incident with France that threatens to end diplomatic relations.
Deveraux’s songs and acting provide laugh after laugh, as do those of the French ambassador (Andrew Dell). When he prances onto the stage in a red kerchief and black beret, he is accompanied by two French can-can dancers (Laynie Nelson and Anna Chasse) in over-the-top costumes with little Eiffel Tower replicas on their hats.
That Ira Gershwin lyrics are filled with catchy rhymes is, of course, an understatement. In explaining why he chose Mary Turner over Deveraux, Wintergreen sings:
“Please understand — it isn’t that I would jilt or spurn her, it’s just that I love someone else — Mary Turner!”
Or when the president’s kitchen cabinet urges him to quit over the Deveraux jilting, they sing:
“You decline to resign, so we’ll teach you, we’ll impeach you!”
Some audience members might find themselves singing a verse or two from the title song: “Of thee I sing, baby, you’ve got a certain thing, baby!”
The singing, dancing and laughing political satire boasts a cast of 48, one of Ethington’s largest, and more than a handful are freshmen, Pensis said after the energetic spectacle.
Other COFAP faculty and students involved in the show include William Symington, scenic designer and properties designer; Nola Yergin, costume designer; Stacee Martinez, sound designer; Mark Fearey, music director; Jessi Young, choreographer; Miranda Briscoe and Kaleb Burris, hair and makeup designers; and Klay Wandelear, technical director/master electrician.
Principle cast members include:
Presidential candidate John Wintergreen — Alexander Dubois
Mary Turner — Grace Henderson
Diana Devereaux — Devaune Bohall
The French Ambassador — Andrew Dell
VP candidate Alexander Throttlebottom — Levi Roberts
7:30 p.m. shows today and Saturday, Oct. 15, Friday, Oct. 21 and Saturday, Oct. 22
2 p.m. shows Sunday, Oct. 16, and Sunday, Oct. 23
Tickets are available here, and students get tickets free with ID.
Contact Laurie Merrill at (602) 639-6511 or firstname.lastname@example.org.