Can dragapella save a presidential campaign that suddenly seems to be hitting the skids, entertainment-wise?
The Kinsey Sicks hope so. The Sicks are four men in red-white-and-blue drag, a “beautyshop” quartet singing a cappella parodies. Their new show at Theater J, “Electile Dysfunction: The Kinsey Sicks for President!”, is a mock political rally pushing the red-meat buttons of the right as this frisky foursome tries to become the first corporation to win the White House.
“I’ll defend ya/ From Kenya /Through the millennia,” the Kinseys sing, with the backup harmonies goofily emphasizing that they are “Not from Kenya /Not from Kenya.” Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Modern Major General’s Song” from “The Pirates of Penzance” gets rendered as “I am the very model of a moderate Republican,” even though the Sicks gradually agree that “The ‘moderate’ in ‘moderate Republican’ is silent, like the ‘p’ in ‘psoriasis.’ ”
It’s a show in which Mitt Romney is gleefully referred to as Mitzi. So what’s not to like?
The non-singing bits, as it turns out. The songs are marvels: They’re pun-filled and sung in four-part harmony — a capella, let’s remember — with a good deal of wit in the arrangements. Picture lanky Irwin Keller as Winnie, dolled up in a conservative skirt and cat’s-eye glasses and singing the deep “oompah oompah” bass lines in the harmonies. When Keller’s Winnie lets loose in soulful solos, it’s a hoot.
Likewise, Jeff Manabat’s glamorous Trixie, who vamps and purrs diva style in a long gown. Spencer Brown’s bubbly, leggy Trampolina radiantly sports a skirt and a beehive, while Ben Schatz’s ultra-crude Rachel — the Mack truck of the bunch — flaunts a cheerleader-style miniskirt, within which he keeps a ready supply of cheese doodles.
Which has us skidding away from the clever, jubilantly performed songs (“Peoria,” about heartland voters, sung to the pop tune “Gloria”) and into the rut of the straight (ahem) comic shtick. The gabbing between numbers isn’t terribly polished, as the gang lobs flat political jabs and naughty bits (lots and lots of naughty bits) that grow pretty graphic. Naughty can be nice, but when a majority of the gags fail to land, it feels like you’re stuck in a second-rate dive with a two-drink minimum.
The cast frequently voyages into the audience, compelling interaction that comes off less as campaign parody than as what-can-we-do-next padding. (If you don’t want to get involved, beware of the front rows and aisle seats, and yes, I was conscripted on opening night.) Without the songs, the saucy group’s target gets watery, and “Electile” becomes more of a broadside — “Hey, Values Voters, get a load of us!”
But within the songs, they rarely miss. The Sicks knock off “We Are the World” and make something sublime of “Love Child,” harmonizing over pointed comic lyrics and driving the show to a silly peak. That’s the ticket: Sing out, sisters.
Pressley is a freelance writer.
Written by Spencer Brown, Irwin Keller, Jeff Manabat and Ben Schatz. Lights, Jason Arnold; scenic design consultant, Lauren Halpern. Through Feb. 19 at Theater J’s Goldman Theater, 1529 16th St. NW. 800-494-8497 or boxofficetickets.com.