By BART GREENBERG****Did you know that 41 of the 45 presidents of the United States have documented mistresses? That one president’s mistress delayed World War II via blackmail of a commander-in-chief? That another chief executive’s lady friend was a six-foot-tall champion bull rider?
If you attend Power Over POTUS: The Women Who #%!@ Presidents at the Laurie Beechman Theatre, you’ll learn all this and more. The lively, raucous and ribald theatre piece created and performed by the versatile Erica Vlahinos, who inhabits all of these lively ladies, is an entertaining romp through sexual history.
The premise of the show is that Monica Lewinsky in the present receives a surprising job offer from the White House. This leads to her flashing back to the past, from her childhood on to her tenure as a governmental intern/presidential mistress. Somehow, this segues into a drug-induced vision of past commander- in-chiefs’ girl friends, each of whom gets a combination of photographic montage (well designed by Shane Snider and Patrick Cashin) and a musical number. Eventually, we return to the present and Monica discovers who her mysterious employer is, and there are a few more songs. The major problem with the show is this rather complicated format that often leave us wondering which time period we are in at any given moment. It certainly doesn’t ruin the evening, but some simplification would smooth out the transitions.
above: Erica Vlahinos
What is great fun is the choice of the music. Each of the women is well-defined by the song selections – standards dressed up with new lyrics by the star. Some are expected: Marilyn Monroe identifies herself as “Man’s Best Friend” to her signature “Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.” Some are suited to the period: President Warren Harding’s mistress Carrie Phillips‘s blackmail is in the form of “The Choice Is Up to You” to the melody of the classic “It All Depends on You.” And some are a surprise: Monica celebrates her status as a “White House Intern” set to “Sweet Transvestite.” Music Director Nick Wilders quickly adapts to the many styles with aplomb and joins in on a few vocals.
Vlahinos is a confident and clever actress, singer and lyricist. Her central character of Monica is a far more complex character than expected – a charming mix of naiveté, ambition and sexuality. The other personalities have less chance to develop, but all are more than one-dimensional caricatures. Her work has a delightful political bite. If the show has some flaws, they are clearly outranked by the virtues to be found in the vices of our presidents.
Power Over POTUS returns to The Laurie Beechman Theatre on September 7, 12 and 18. The theatre is located downstairs in the West Bank Café, 407 West 42 St., NYC. There is a $24 cover charge and a $20 food and beverage minimum per person. Reservations may be made at westbankcafe.com.