What everyone can use more of these days are laughs, and the new Broadway comedy POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive serves up plenty and at high-speed.
The play, an impressive Broadway debut by 28-year-old Selina Fillinger (The Morning Show), is helmed by 5-time Tony Award winner Susan Stroman and brought to life by a terrific well-cast ensemble of seven actresses.
The all-star cast of women are: Tony Award nominee Lilli Cooper (Tootsie) as Chris, a White House reporter; Lea DeLaria (Orange is the New Black) as Bernadette, the president’s sister; comedic actress Rachel Dratch (Saturday Night Live) in her Broadway debut as Stephanie, the president’s secretary; Emmy Award winner Julianne Hough (Dancing with the Stars) in her Broadway debut as Dusty; Suzy Nakamura (Horrible Bosses 2) in her Broadway debut as Jean, White House press secretary; Tony Award winner Julie White (The Little Dog Laughed) as Harriet, chief of staff; and Grammy, Emmy & Tony Award nominee Vanessa Williams (Into the Woods, Trip To Bountiful, Ugly Betty) as Margaret, the First Lady.
The play begins moments after the never-seen president has made a crass remark about the First Lady (Williams) having referred to her as being in a “c*nty mood” (Fillinger’s word, not mine) in a public setting. This launches the talented cast of characters into a high-octane mission to clean up his PR mess. And along the way, a queer love affair comes into focus between the president’s sister and press secretary.
It’s worth noting that set designer Beowulf Boritt’s amazing set which rotates, taking us to various settings in the White House, could possibly be considered an 8th character in this hyperactive farce.
In a cast among equals there are some standouts:
Williams knows exactly who her character is: a no-nonsense, accept no foolishness, over-qualified First Lady who – after being told she needs to be more “earthy” – wears Crocs, albeit with high heels and sequins adorning the footwear.
Rachel Dratch, as the president’s mousy secretary, gets some of the biggest, broadest laughs wandering the stage – wearing an inflatable ring, smeared with blood having taken too many edibles – and she knows just how to handle them.
White, as the President’s chief of staff, shows no fear in the face of adversity having propped up the president for years. That said, her release valve is beginning to quake.
Lea DeLaria revels in her role as the president’s brazen butch lesbian sister who recently was released from prison for drug charges and is on the hunt for a presidential pardon.
Julianne Hough makes her Broadway debut as a farm girl who fell for the president’s charms (you know what I mean) and shows up vomiting blue slushies due to her pregnancy. Her elaborate body-clap routine is a highlight.
Oh, and did we mention “ass play” is a common term bandied about throughout the show?
It’s almost like an episode of VEEP only populated entirely by women. And that’s a good thing because all of these actresses totally understand the assignment.
For the most part, the play moves at 70 miles an hour sustaining the action and contagious hilarity of the situations. Rarely does the action slow down to a mere simmer, but when it does it’s to underscore the message that women can run the world given the wherewithal to do so. Technically you understand it, but at that point you’re waiting for someone to turn the burners back up to high.
And that’s exactly what happens. After the crowd-pleasing cast takes their bows, they launch into a delicious mega-mix of empowering songs.
A definitely plus for some folks who, thanks to an internet kinda life we now lead, have shorter attention spans is the rollicking farce clocks in at an hour and forty-five minutes WITH an intermission. Trust and believe, by the time the curtain comes down you’ve laughed with, and cheered for, these seven wonder women.
With none of the actresses names blared above the title (required for most “Best Actress” Tony Award nominations) due to the tight ensemble nature of the piece, and only six slots available in the “Best Performance By An Actress In A Featured Role In A Play” category across the entire season of plays, it was White and Dratch who scored nominations. Although, it’s fair to say that practically any of these talented actresses could have been nominated. It’s a good argument that a “Best Ensemble” category should be instituted at the Tonys.
Scenic designer Boritt was also nominated for his ever-revolving set design.
POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass Are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive plays at the Shubert Theatre through August 14, 2022.
Tune in the the Tony Awards Sunday, June 12 at 7pm ET/4pm PT as Emmy Award-winners Darren Criss and Julianne Hough will co-host “The Tony Awards: Act One” on Paramount+. Criss and Hough will kick off the evening celebrating the 2022 Tony Awards, doling out multiple honors and introducing special performances throughout the first hour of programming.
From 8pm ET/ 5pm PT, Academy Award winner and Tony nominee Ariana DeBose will host The 75th Annual Tony Awards, airing live coast-to-coast on CBS and Paramount+.