'Of Thee I Sing' places style over substance CENTRAL COUNTY -- Arnold * Broadneck * Severna Park * Crownsville * Millersville

November 18, 1992|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing Writer

At its best, "Of Thee I Sing," the George S. Kaufman/George and Ira Gershwin spoof of American presidential politics, is sort of Gilbert and Sullivan in swing.

It is, after all, the story of the politicians who put their boy, Jack Wintergreen, in the White House by staging a national beauty contest in the hope that the candidate's marriage to the winner will prove an irresistible vote-getter from all those dolts out in Peoria.

"We appeal to your hearts, not your intelligence," the sleazy kingmaker tells the adoring crowd.

But, like the presidency itself, the best moments of the play are fleeting. For as the Moonlight Troupers are demonstrating over at Anne Arundel Community College's Pascal Center, it's simply not a very distinguished show. Scenes like the opening hotel room conversation drag on as aimlessly as Ronald Reagan's second term. In this piece, art mimics political life; a genuinely funny line becomes a quadrennial event.

There are two saving graces.

The musical score provides some welcome relief from the banality of the script though, to tell the truth, there's a fair amount of chaff mixed in with the wheat.

"Wintergreen for President" makes a delightful mockery of our pluralistic palaver. ("He's the man the people choose. Loves the Irish and the Jews.") "Love is Sweeping the Country," "Of Thee I Sing" and the hellaciously clever "Posterity Is Just Around the Corner" are pretty close to vintage George and Ira, though they're only four songs among 18.

And, thankfully, there are some accomplished Moonlighter leads on hand as theatrical spin-doctors, working valiantly to put the cheesy material in the best possible light.

Walt League and Sue Centurelli are quite good as the candidate and the all-American, muffin-baking working girl he marries.

David Reynolds is a rubber-faced riot as the cynical power broker, despite a makeup job on loan from Dick Nixon's 1960 campaign.

Bob Rude is a portly howl as Alexander Throttle-bottom, the vice president nobody knows or wants. Carol Cohen is suitably nutty as the jilted Southern belle whose honor is defended by the talented Scott Nichols as the indignant French ambassador. Eric Badertscher is also good as the perky, omnipresent secretary.

The production is handsome and colorful. But while the ensemble does some snappy dancing, the singers let the production numbers down by being too much like the real-life Congress they portray -- tentative and frequently out of control.

The verdict? Placing style over substance can get you elected to office, but it can sure make for a long night at the theater.

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