October 14, 2008

Poking Fun at Politics

That mouldy old chestnut about art mirroring society is weirdly inverted in Opera North's latest production.

Of Thee I Sing, George and Ira Gershwin's skit on American politics, seems bang up to date on the grubby tactics of the current presidential race.

Considering that this entertaining musical debuted in 1931, it's not so much a reflection as a crystal ball. Either that, or we have to conclude that the presidential race inevitably features morons.

There's a folksy, sentimental candidate for the top-job - John P. Wintergreen - who's more interested in corn muffins than the finer points of policy.

And a clueless nerd, Alexander Throttlebottom, in the vice- presidential position. So clueless, in fact, he can't locate the White House.

The brilliance of this musical - written by the brothers who co- authored 16 Broadway shows during the 20s and 30s - sits in the way it takes the shine off the glitz surrounding politics.

Rather than a committed group of people driven by polices and ideals, the show begins with a motley collection of party bigwigs - the types who'd chomp cigars, if they had cigars to chomp - desperately trying to work up a strategy for their campaign.

Having failed to come up with anything remotely workable, they ask the chambermaid - who disinterestedly tells them that she's interested in "Money, then love."

Seized by the idea, these spin doctors devise a campaign of love featuring a series of beauty competitions, with the winner getting Wintergreen's hand in marriage.

This being politics, the plans soon crumble to dust, but the vim of director Caroline Gawn's production ensures the resulting confusions are memorably, and amusingly, rendered.

In the lead role, William Dazeley is a vague, rather other wordly type, who hankers after muffins as much as the lure of power.

His performance, along with a Stan Laurel-like turn by Stephen Beard as Throttlebottom, his running mate, are the stand-outs in a production filled with glitzy group numbers that mock the shallowness of American politics.

What: Of Thee I Sing

Where: Grand Theatre, New Briggate, Leeds

When: Thursday, October 23 and Wednesday, October 29 7.15pm. Tickets pounds10-pounds58, call 0844 848 2722; or visit www.operanorth.co.uk

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