As this year’s tumultuous election comes closer day by day, “Of Thee I Sing” couldn’t have come to the University of Miami at a better time.
The acclaimed political satire was written in the 1930s by George and Ira Gershwin. It mocks the contentious political atmosphere that invariably sets the tone for presidential elections in the United States. The masterfully upbeat musical style of George Gershwin is omnipresent in the musical’s soundtrack, which features a couple of subtle references to “Rhapsody in Blue” and “An American in Paris,” two of Gershwin’s most famous compositions.
The musical’s main character, presidential candidate John Wintergreen, is played by Daniel Barrett, a junior and theatre arts student whose past credits include “Guys and Dolls” and Stephen Sondheim’s “Saturday Night.”
“This show has been an absolute joy to work on,” Barrett said. “Covering these topics and doing a show like this is so exciting because it is so relevant.”
In this version, the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre crew breathes new life into the classic musical by incorporating contemporary political references that will surely evoke a couple of ‘Aha!’ moments from the audience. There are references to LGBT rights, marijuana and even current political candidates, most notably Donald Trump. The Republican nominee’s campaign slogan is satirized for the comically devious purposes of the ambitious John Wintergreen, who adopts the slogan “Make America Love Again.”
Wintergreen unfortunately lets his ambition get the best of him, as he decides to hold a beauty pageant for potential first ladies and ends up falling in love with the woman running the pageant, Mary Turner. Chaos and comedic shenanigans ensue, bolstered by the energetic, over-the-top performance of the musical’s wonderfully talented cast. Wintergreen and the rest of his cabinet stand out as the stars of the show, with most of their jokes guaranteed to bring about laughs from the audience.
However, one thing that was unavoidable in this specific version of the play was the common and sometimes awkward use of pop-culture references in place of some of the original material from the 1930s to increase relevancy. While the decision for the crew to update the jokes was understandable, there were times when the constant references to selfies and McDonald’s seemed somewhat extraneous. As a result, some of the jokes in the musical are hit-and-miss. For most of the musical’s comedic material, the audience will respond with boisterous laughter, and at other times with jaded giggles.
In terms of production, the musical deserves very high scores. The first thing theatre-goers will see as they enter the proscenium is a wide, beautifully decorated, patriotic stage with a large bench representing the Supreme Court. Wardrobes and props have been updated to resemble the fashion and culture of modern times. Audience members will be surprised to see Kermit the Frog make a surprise cameo as a prop, emphasizing the theatre crew’s eclectic and daffy sense of humor.
Needless to say, “Of Thee I Sing” is a sobering reminder of the sillier aspects of American politics. It’s a marvelously crafted comedic experience for political pundits and novices alike. It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if this version of the musical comes into mind for audience members as they enter the polls next month. “Of Thee I Sing” is brilliant in the sense that it is not only hugely entertaining, but also extremely relevant for the modern age and many ages to come.
The musical will continue playing at the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre until Saturday, Oct. 8. Tickets can be purchased online on the theatre’s official webpage, and run $10-25 depending on if one is a student, alumnus, faculty member or general member of the public.
Overall score: 4/5