Washington Post

Kinsey Sicks launch ditzy White House bid in Theater J show

By Nelson Pressley

Can dragapella save a presidential campaign that suddenly seems to be hitting the skids, entertainment-wise?

The Kinsey Sicks hope so. The Sicks are four men in red-white-and-blue drag, a “beautyshop” quartet singing a cappella parodies. Their new show at Theater J, “Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President!”, is a mock political rally pushing the red-meat buttons of the right as this frisky foursome tries to become the first corporation to win the White House.

“I’ll defend ya/ From Kenya /Through the millennia,” the Kinseys sing, with the backup harmonies goofily emphasizing that they are “Not from Kenya /Not from Kenya.” Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Modern Major General’s Song” from “The Pirates of Penzance” gets rendered as “I am the very model of a moderate Republican,” even though the Sicks gradually agree that “The ‘moderate’ in ‘moderate Republican’ is silent, like the ‘p’ in ‘psoriasis.’ ”

It’s a show in which Mitt Romney is gleefully referred to as Mitzi. So what’s not to like?

The non-singing bits, as it turns out. The songs are marvels: They’re pun-filled and sung in four-part harmony — a capella, let’s remember — with a good deal of wit in the arrangements. Picture lanky Irwin Keller as Winnie, dolled up in a conservative skirt and cat’s-eye glasses and singing the deep “oompah oompah” bass lines in the harmonies. When Keller’s Winnie lets loose in soulful solos, it’s a hoot.

Likewise, Jeff Manabat’s glamorous Trixie, who vamps and purrs diva style in a long gown. Spencer Brown’s bubbly, leggy Trampolina radiantly sports a skirt and a beehive, while Ben Schatz’s ultra-crude Rachel — the Mack truck of the bunch — flaunts a cheerleader-style miniskirt, within which he keeps a ready supply of cheese doodles.

Which has us skidding away from the clever, jubilantly performed songs (“Peoria,” about heartland voters, sung to the pop tune “Gloria”) and into the rut of the straight (ahem) comic shtick. The gabbing between numbers isn’t terribly polished, as the gang lobs flat political jabs and naughty bits (lots and lots of naughty bits) that grow pretty graphic. Naughty can be nice, but when a majority of the gags fail to land, it feels like you’re stuck in a second-rate dive with a two-drink minimum.

The cast frequently voyages into the audience, compelling interaction that comes off less as campaign parody than as what-can-we-do-next padding. (If you don’t want to get involved, beware of the front rows and aisle seats, and yes, I was conscripted on opening night.) Without the songs, the saucy group’s target gets watery, and “Electile” becomes more of a broadside — “Hey, Values Voters, get a load of us!”

But within the songs, they rarely miss. The Sicks knock off “We Are the World” and make something sublime of “Love Child,” harmonizing over pointed comic lyrics and driving the show to a silly peak. That’s the ticket: Sing out, sisters.



Theater Review: “Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President!” at Theater J

The “dragapella” quartet skewers politics in their newest musical comedy show.

By Sophie Gilbert

Ordinarily, the sight of a troupe of overly made up buffoons decked in glaring red, white, and blue strutting across a stage declaring that they’re endorsed by Yahweh would be A) the circus, B) a less-imaginative Saturday Night Live skit, or C) a South Carolina teen beauty pageant. Unfortunately, these days it’s just as likely to be a Republican primary debate. In the past few months alone, we’ve seen serious presidential contenders endorse the concept of child labor, excoriate “government injections” (or vaccinations, as some people like to call them), and declare that government shouldn’t intervene to save the life of a gravely ill man who is uninsured. In other words, not only has life come to imitate art, but it’s also kicked art in the shins, slushied it, and stolen its lunch money.

Which makes things hard for the Kinsey Sicks in their new show, currently enjoying its world premiere run at Theater J. In Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President!, the girls (Rachel, Winnie, Trampolina, and Trixie) have donned their patriotic finest (imagine a fusion of the Star-Spangled Banner and stripper chic) and are announcing their run for president (as a corporation, naturally). “The economy has collapsed,” declares a video at the start of the show. “America is in decline.” So the Kinsey Sicks—America’s “favorite dragapella beautyshop quartet,” in case you weren’t familiar—have abandoned show business, taken newfound pledges of celibacy, and thrown their wigs in the ring—as Republicans.

If you thought a cross-dressing, power-crazed, sexually incontinent a cappella quartet couldn’t come close to the level of crazy we’ve already seen in the past few years, you’d be right. From the Sicks’ opening number, “Vote for Me (I Wasn’t Born in Kenya),” to the jaunty “Gonorrhea” (sung to the tune of Abba’s “Mamma Mia”), it soon becomes clear that try as they might to amp up the absurdity, there’s very little on offer here that we haven’t already seen at a Tea Party rally or two. “Eliminate the schools, say we,” sing the Sicks in a parody of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Three Little Maids From School Are We.” “They’ll learn all they need in a factory/ Or as a janitorial trainee.”

Sound familiar? There’s the rub: What should be prime fodder for Ben Schatz (Rachel), Irwin Keller (Winnie), Jeff Manabat (Trixie), and Spencer Brown (Trampolina)—namely, an election year—has actually wandered so far down Bonkers Boulevard that the girls end up looking positively tame by comparison. Luckily, they drag themselves back by means of some ribald audience interaction and a few thrilling stingers. Their best joke, which belies Schatz and Keller’s lawyerly background, pokes fun at a certain muted member of the judiciary. Says Winnie: “In the words of my favorite Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas”—followed by a deathly silence.

But as clever as the Sicks may be, they also can’t help falling a little flat every now and then, both in humor and in tone. One number, a sycophantic ode to the heartland voters of Peoria (or any other remote and only occasionally useful town), seems uninspired, and as Winnie patters on about the importance of monogamy (“not just another piece of expensive wood”), the political jokes seem to be holding the performers back. They’re much more in their element when preying on uncomfortable audience members during profane interludes, or performing a gun-themed pastiche of 1985’s “We Are the World” in “We Arm the World.”

As inadvertently entertaining as politics can be, it is essentially a serious business, and it’s hard not to think that the grim issues on the table here keep the Sicks from reaching their full potential. It comes out in glimpses, as when the girls sing, “I am Mormon, hear me roar” for their understudy Mitzi (a.k.a. Mitt), or in the utterly icky ode to abstinence, “Everything’s Coming Up Noses.” But the show as a whole feels fractured and, at almost two hours, overly long. As much as we love the Kinsey Sicks and their irrepressible odes to all things taboo or tasteless, the jokes in Electile Dysfunction are almost too close for comfort. After all, when a thrice-married, publicly chastised lobbyist is taken seriously as a crusader for family values, it can’t be long until a singing dragapella beautyshop quartet can make it all the way to the convention.

Metro Weekly

Riffing on Republicans

The Kinsey Sicks try to be funnier than Michele Bachmann

by Doug Rule
Published on February 2, 2012, 4:49am | Comments

How could anyone be funnier than Michele Bachmann or Herman Cain?

''I kid you not,'' says Ben Schatz of the Kinsey Sicks, ''there were jokes that we wrote for this show when we first drafted it over the summer that candidates [later] actually said.

''It has been a comedic challenge to be even more extreme than those we are parodying,'' he continues. ''But I think we have managed.''

In fact, Schatz thinks the latest show from the Sicks, the self-described ''dragapella beautyshop quartet,'' ''is our best show yet.''

Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President! premieres this weekend at the DC JCC's Goldman Theater. It's essentially one long GOP presidential campaign rally, in which the Sicks – Schatz as Rachel, Irwin Keller as Winnie, Jeff Manabat as Trixie and Spencer Brown as Trampolina – present what Schatz says is ''our rather unique Republican platform.'' But, according to the group's chief lyricist, to reveal much more -- even listing titles of parodied songs -- would ''spoil it for the audience.'' Instead, he simply says: ''There are several unforgettable parodies which will make it impossible for you to hear the original songs in the same way ever again.'' He also adds that they managed to work Grover Norquist into a rhyme scheme.

Theater J commissioned the show, which will travel around the country in the coming months. The Sicks will even perform in Tampa during the Republican Convention.

''For this I went to law school – to get dressed up in hideous drag,'' jokes the 52-year-old Schatz, who grew up mostly on the East Coast and earned a degree from Harvard Law School. He later went on to advise Bill Clinton on HIV issues during his first presidential campaign, before drag came calling.

Now, even his mother is a fan. ''The truth is,'' Schatz says, ''my mom will be there on opening night. My parents love us.'' -- Doug Rule