ELECTILE DYSFUNCTION: THE KINSEY SICKS FOR PRESIDENT FULL PRESS
Kinsey Sicks launch ditzy White House bid in Theater J show
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
“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?
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.
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.
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
Theater Review: “Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President!” at Theater J
The “dragapella” quartet skewers politics in their newest musical comedy show.
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
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
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.
Riffing on Republicans
The Kinsey Sicks try to be funnier than Michele Bachmann
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
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