BWW Review: DAVE, A World Premiere Musical at Arena Stage - Looks Like It is Destined for Broadway

BWW Review: DAVE, A World Premiere Musical at Arena Stage - Looks Like It is Destined for Broadway

Arena Stage is going for the trifecta. Their NEXT TO NORMAL and DEAR EVAN HANSEN both translated into Broadway hits. Can DAVE the musical follow suit? Yes, indeed.

Many of you may be familiar with the 1993 film" Dave" which starred Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver. For those who missed the Oscar-nominated political comedy (which I highly recommend), DAVE tells the story of a high school teacher Dave Kovic (Drew Gehling) who is a lookalike to President Bill Mitchell (also played by Gehling).

Kovic is a high school history teacher who loves Abraham Lincoln and his Gettysburg
Address. He jokes to his students, "Someone in this room could be president!" How prescient. After he loses his job, he does impersonations of the President and is noticed on you-tube by the White House and is hired by a Secret Service agent, Duane Bolden (the superb Josh Breckenridge) as a stand-in for the Commander-in-Chief. The scheme concocted by Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (the wonderful Douglas Sills...so terrific in THE SCARLET PIMPERNEL where he garnered a Tony nomination) and his assistant Susan Lee (Bryonha Marie Parham who has a heavenly voice) is for Kovic to just wave to crowds while the President is up to some shenanigans with his secretary Randi (Rachel Flynn). Lee comments on this deception by stating "It's not the worst thing ever done in Washington." Bob responds, "Not even close."

What Bob and Lee did not plan on was that Kovic would "love" his new job and power and attempt to put it to use by working on social issues like elder care.

The play has many references to current and past political events. Bob even has a Dick Cheney kind of event in Wyoming while hunting.

Well, the plans of mice and men. President Mitchell has a stroke (under less than Presidential circumstances) Kovic's job becomes much greater when he is thrust into the Oval Office as the Presidential impersonator. And how is he going to get around President Mitchell's wife Ellen (the lovely Mamie Parris)? How long will she take to recognize the imposter? Will she play along with this game? I will never tell!!

Ellen's feelings are expressed in the tango "The Last Time I Faked It" and the glorious balled "Not Again".

Thankfully the book writers, the deceased Thomas Meehan and Nell Benjamin (who also wrote the lyrics to Tom Kitt's terrific score) have kept a scene from the film where the President throws out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game. In the film, in 1993 there was no Nationals, so the filmmakers shot the scene in Baltimore at Camden Yards with President Mitchell wearing an Orioles' jacket. I happened to see the film being made at Camden Yards with Kevin Kline throwing from the pitcher's mound. I even have a photo of it. I was surprised to see a similar photo at the theater in the Arena's video montage available outside the theater.

Before the game starts, there is then a parody of modern National Anthem performers and starts a crazy rendition. The Arena Stage audience automatically rises as if they were at the game. When the singer (the uncredited fabulous Dana Costello) forgets the lyrics, here comes Dave center stage and helps her finish the remainder of the anthem while the audience joins in. That pretty much sums up Dave's persona.

Gehling's performance is similar to Dick Van Dyke in "Mary Poppins" or Jimmy Stewart in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington". He's the "little decent man" everyone roots for. Gehling is perfectly cast. He is so versatile. He can sing (great voice), dance, has great comedy timing, and has such a lovable personality. Remember how Robert Morse smugs in HOW TO SUCCEED IN BUSINESS WITHOUT REALLY TRYING? That's Gehling!!

His quick changes are just magical. They reminded me of THE MYSTERY OF IRMA VEP.

There are many highlights. The opening numbers "There's Always a Way" and "I'm The President" are superb.

My favorite could be the opening of Act II when Bob and Susan sing "Kill That Guy" with the terrific ensemble in black suits and aviator sunglasses.

One number should be cut and that involves Dave having a hallucination and past Presidents like Andrew Johnson, Garfield, Taft, Harding, Hayes, Harrison, and Buchanan join him in the Lincoln Bedroom for "Presidential Party".

Don Laffrey did a wonderful job with the set which is circular in nature and actors push and pull the panels apart to reveal the Oval Office, the Capital with supertitles letting us know where we are by Projection Designer Peter Nigrini. There are also clever videos on both sides of the stage that relate news analysis. Japhy Weideman did the great lighting, Walter Trarbach did the sound and one can hear every lyric. I did however have a hard time hearing the guitar work by Gerry Kunkel. Sam Pinkleton did the clever choreography.

The superb eight-piece orchestra is located high above the stage on both sides under the musical direction of Rob Berman.

Finally, kudos to Director Tina Landau for pulling this all together. I do hope your hard work will pay off with a trip to Broadway.

DAVE runs until August 19, 2018. For tickets, call 202-488-3300 or visit www.arenastage.org. There is a post-show discussion following the August 16 performance.

Next up at Arena Stage is a Play About Comic Genius, Dick Gregory, TURN ME LOOSE which runs Sept. 6 to October 14, 2018. This is followed by the musical ANYTHING GOES running Nov. 2 to Dec. 23, 2018.

THIS AND THAT

Baltimore Center Stage has just announced their new Artistic Director, Stephanie Ybarra. Ybarra comes from New York's Public Theater where she currently serves as Director of Special Artistic Projects. She will transition to Center Stage beginning in October and join the staff full-time in December.

Olney Theatre Company continues with HMS PINAFORE AND PIRATES OF PENZANCE until August 19, 2018.

Next season starts August 31 with SOUTH PACIFIC. ELF THE MUSICAL runs Nov. 9 to January 6, 2019. LABOR OF LOVE begins Sept. 26. The American Premiere of OIL runs Feb. 27 to March 31.

The Tony-winning musical ONCE opens Feb. 6 to March 10. Ken Ludwig's A COMEDY OF TENORS opens April 10 to May 12. Frederic Schiller's MARY STUART runs May 8 to June 9. The comedy TIGER STYLE runs July 17 to August 18. And, Roald Dahl's MATILDA runs June 21 to July 21, the DC Resident Professional Premiere.

Make note of three noteworthy one night only concerts at the Olney Theatre Center: ANYONE CAN WHISTLE (October 12, 2018), FINIAN'S RAINBOW (March 15, 2019) and CHILDREN OF EDEN (July 26, 2019).

PASSION is gearing up to open the Signature new season which runs August 14 to Sept. 23.

Another Sondheim hit musical SWEENEY TODD heads to the Rep Stage in Columbia running September 6 to September 23.

MAMMA MIA! continues at Toby's Dinner Theatre until September 9. I highly recommend the new film. Stay for the credits.

SMALL MOUTH SOUNDS is at Round House Theatre from August 29 to September 23, 2018.

The Kennedy Center continues with HAMILTON (until September 16) and THE COLOR PURPLE (until Aug. 26).

Speaking of THE COLOR PURPLE, the Broadway star for it and Tony-winning British actress Cynthia Erivo will be performing at the Baltimore Symphony's2018 Gala Concert Saturday night, September 15 at 8:30 p.m. Tickets start at $50. Call 410-783-8000.

On Wednesday, August 15, members of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) brass and percussion sections will perform a free outdoor send-off concert at the War Memorial Plaza ahead of the BSO's international tour of Ireland and the United Kingdom. Baltimore City Mayor Catherine E. Pugh welcomes BSO Associate Conductor Nicholas Hersh and the BSO at 5 p.m. to kick-off the performance, which takes place on the War Memorial Plaza. This concert is the Orchestra's last Baltimore performance before departing for the nine-day tour, which will be led by Music Director Marin Alsop and includes performances in Edinburgh, London and Dublin. Alsop and the BSO depart for the first international tour in 13 years, which includes debut performances at the BBC Proms and the Edinburgh International Festival.

At the August 15 War Memorial Plaza concert, Hersh leads the ensemble in selections including John Williams' Olympic Fanfare, Handel's Music for the Royal Fireworks Suite and Strauss' Also Sprach Zarathustra (theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey), among other favorites.

Guests at the Party on the Plaza on August 15 will also enjoy a selection of local food trucks on site.

PBS has just announced its fall 2018 GREAT PERFORAMNCES line-up which will commence on Friday, November 2 and continue November 9, 16, and 23 from 9 to 11 p.m.

Look for the Tony Award-winning production of AN AMERICAN IN PARIS, a live production recorded in the UK of THE SOUND OF MUSIC LIVE, John Leguizamo's latest theatrical showcase "John Leguizamo's Road to Broadway", and "Harold Prince - A Director's Journey, a retrospective look at the 60-year career of this Tony Award-winning producer and director.

Washington's Ford's Theatre Society and TodayTix have announced the third year of the popular FREE FIRST PREVIEW initiative, through whcih free tickets are given away to the first performance of all Ford's Theatre mainstage productions. The TodayTix digital lottery launches one week before the first performance of each production. This year's Free First Preview performances are: BORN YESTERDAY , Sept. 21, 2018 at 7:30 p.m., A CHRISTMAS CAROL, November 15, 2018 at 7:30 p.m., TWELVE ANGRY MEN, January 18, 2019 at 7:30 p.m., and INTO THE WOODS, March 8, 2019 at 7:30 p.m. To enter the digital lottery, patrons must download the TodayTix app and select "TodayTix Free First Previews". Winners will be notified by email between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on the day of the first preview. Winners must confirm their winning tickets (up to two) in the TodayTix app within one hour of being notified. There is also an in-person standby list at the Ford's Box Office on the day of the Free First Preview beginning at 5 p.m. Visit www.fords.org. and www.todaytix.com.

cgshubow@broadwayworld.com

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