THEATRE REVIEW: Vote For Me: A Musical Debate, London Theatre Workshop

runs until 23 May

Vote For Me 2
Lucy Grainger as Robyn Fiedler in Vote For Me

In the lead-up to the UK general election, there has been plenty of political theatre around, yet I’ve been rather disinclined to see any of it – frankly there’s been enough discussion of politics and the election on my television, news sites and social media for me to seek it out at the theatre too. Yet this show seemed like a much more appealing way of doing things: firstly, in focusing on American politics, it is distant enough to alleviate the weariness of all the election chat, yet in touch enough to fit the feel of London at this time; secondly, it’s a comedy, so should raise a laugh rather than a groan of despair; and thirdly, it’s a musical. And as we all know, I love a good musical. So, what better occasion to catch up with several of the #LDNTheatreBloggers than at this Election Night press night?

The premise of the show focuses on the two presidential candidates in their final TV debate (a feature of election campaigning that may be new to the UK, but is a well-worn practice over the Atlantic, as the creative team pointed out after the show). Democrat Janet Tilghman (Emily Lynne) is aiming to be the first woman in the White House, while Republican Buddy Rounsaville (Hans Rye) struggles through to try to give his wife her dream of becoming the First Lady.

The script is totally tongue-in-cheek, with the central characters barely failing to avoid gaffe after gaffe, and offering some, let’s say, “interesting” answers to serious questions. They are supported – and at times rather bullied – by their respective spouses, the mild-mannered Roger (Arvid Larsen) and the fiery Amy (Jennie Jacobs). Drew Fornarola and Scott Elmegreen’s songs are woven fluidly into the narrative and are consistently enjoyable, with highlights including Jacobs’s sharp rendition of ‘Why Aren’t You President Yet?’ and Lynne’s hilarious ‘Middle East Disney’, which gives the first big ‘laugh out loud’ moment.

Emily Lynne takes the lead in 'Middle East Disney'
Emily Lynne takes the lead in ‘Middle East Disney’

The cheap and cheerful set, along with the steady stream of comedy props, maintains the feel of this tongue-in-cheek pageantry as director Dom O’Hanlon throws in a carnival of different musical theatre clichés, yet still comes up with an original and witty show that keeps the audience on side throughout. All the performances fizz with energy, with Lynne standing out for her comical turn as the slightly desperate – yet in the end victorious, thanks to a live audience vote that determines the show’s end – Janet. Lucy Grainger also shines as the debate moderator Robyn, at first a seemingly small part, but one that comes into its own and steals the show with an incredibly impressive number that recites all the democratic countries, in order, that have a higher voting turnout than the USA.

While this does send a message about the importance of using your right to vote, the tone still remains playful throughout and is a great bit of light relief to the current political discussion. It was lovely to hear the cast’s enthusiasm for the piece in the after-show Q&A, and to see a transatlantic cast and creatives coming together to continue London Theatre Workshop‘s strong tradition of staging American works.

#LDNTheatreBloggers enjoy meeting the cast and tasting some American goodies after the press night performance
#LDNTheatreBloggers enjoy meeting the cast and tasting some American goodies after the press night performance

Big thanks to Rebecca Felgate and Official Theatre for organising the night, and to the cast for taking time to speak to the #LDNTheatreBloggers after the show. Vote For Me is great fun, with an enjoyable (if not particularly memorable) score that is an ideal theatre trip for those suffering from election fatigue.

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