By Lauren Van Hemert; photo by Margot Schulman
In a world plagued by cynicism and “fake news,” it’s easy to back an optimistic, do-gooder political horse, albeit a fictitious one. That’s one of the reasons why the world premiere of the new musical Dave at the Arena Stage in our nation’s capital feels so right for right now.
Based on the 1993 Oscar-nominated movie, Dave is about an out-of-work high school history teacher and presidential look-alike, who finds himself standing in for the President. But what is supposed to be a one-night stint, turns into full-time national cover-up after the President falls ill under shameful circumstances, which leaves Dave having to convince the public, the press, and the First Lady that he is indeed the Commander-in-Chief.
Waitress’ Drew Gehling is perfect as both the unassuming, Lincoln-loving, teacher/impersonator and arrogant, tweeting, unprincipled President. He scurries seemingly inconspicuously between both roles, a testament to Tina Landau’s clever direction and staging. His boyish charm and enthusiasm are infectious, and he personifies Dave’s unyielding patriotism with certainty, even leading the audience in a sing-along of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner.’
Mamie Parris is creditable as the spirited, jaded First Lady, as is Bryonha Marie Parham as Susan, the White House Communications Director. Also notable are the performances of Douglas Sills as Chief-of-Staff Bob Alexander and Josh Breckenridge as Dave’s Secret Service Agent.
The book by Thomas Meehan and Nell Benjamin pretty much follows the plot of the movie with few exceptions, while the pop score by Tom Kitt and Benjamin is cheery but slightly forgettable.
But the show is funny, sometimes sappy to a fault, and unapologetically hopeful (with a not-so-subtle watchword to get out the vote), which makes it a welcome departure from the misogyny, misanthropy, and mistrust clouding the political landscape of late.
Dave is now playing at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 Sixth Street SW, Washington, DC through August 19. Performance times vary; check the website at Arena Stage. Find more information about current plays in the Chicago area on our Current Shows page and at theatreinchicago.com.