By Mark Kennedy | Associated Press
NEW YORK — Bill and Hillary Clinton are going back to the White House this spring — onstage, that is.
“Clinton the Musical,” the brainchild of two Australian brothers, makes its off-Broadway debut in April with a hysterical premise and a gentle look back at the ’90s.
The play celebrates the first baby-boomer president — the one who preferred briefs to boxers, played a sax on national TV, presided over an economic boom and got himself impeached.
“The thing that endeared Bill Clinton and continues to endear him to the American public is that he was a very identifiable human being,” said Paul Hodge, who wrote the music and lyrics and co-wrote the story. “He was clearly human and he had flaws like everyone.”
The cast of characters includes Dick Morris, Newt Gingrich, Monica Lewinsky and former Clinton special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who sings “A Starr Is Born” and “Sexual Relations.” There’s a dancing press corps and music that takes you back to Celine Dion, Hanson and the Spice Girls.
“It really does its job of taking down America and uplifting it at the same time, in a weird sort of way,” said Dan Knechtges, the Tony Award-nominated director and choreographer. “Nothing is sacred.”
Two men will play the 42nd president — one a wholesome, intelligent Clinton, and another a randy, rogue one (Tom Galantich and Duke Lafoon share the task.) Only Hillary can see both.
That bifurcated idea was first proposed by Michael Hodge, Paul’s older brother, a lawyer in Australia, who co-wrote the story and now consults daily with his brother via Skype on last-minute changes.
“It seemed like a good device to sum up a very complicated man but also something that had a lot of opportunity for humor, and also something that allowed us to tell a story that everyone knows in way that they don’t know,” said Paul Hodge, a Ph.D. candidate in musical composition at the University of Queensland.
Kerry Butler, the Tony Award-nominated star of “Xanadu,” will play Hillary Rodham Clinton just as the former secretary of state debates whether to run her own presidential campaign in 2016.
The Hodge brothers kept an eye on Hillary Clinton’s career as they wrote the show, reworking her part and throwing in topical humor, like jokes about her email.
“That’s part of the fun of doing something that’s set in the past where people know what’s going to happen in the future but the characters in the past don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Paul Hodge, 27. “That’s an opportunity for comedy.”
The show was first presented in a shortened form at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2012, before playing the New York Musical Theater Festival last year. It opens off-Broadway at New World Stages on April 9.
The Hodge brothers have been adding and shaping the show, and only two songs remain from the fringe show. Characters have also been deepened. “There was not enough Ken Starr. You can never get enough Ken Starr,” Paul Hodge joked.
Bill Clinton’s tenure was highlighted by a failed health care reform plan and record budget surpluses. He faced constant scandals, capped by an affair with a White House intern that made him just the second president to be impeached.
The show notes that the Clinton presidency also coincided with the start of the cable boom and the 24-hour news cycle, developments that have buffeted the leaders who follow.
“I think it was a time when the distance between the public and the presidency evaporated,” said Paul Hodge, whose humor is rooted in shows like “The Simpsons,” ”30 Rock,” ”Arrested Development” and “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
The idea of making a musical about the Clinton presidency came about a decade ago when the Hodge brothers saw “Keating!,” a musical about Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating.
They went with their dad, Robert Hodge, who afterward commented: “It’s good, but I don’t think politicians make great subject matter for musicals, except maybe Bill Clinton.”
“We went, ‘Of course!’” Paul Hodge said.
The brothers insist they have no domestic political axe to grind, seeing as they are Australian citizens. They wanted simply to see the president as a flesh-and-blood man.
“I admire Bill Clinton,” Paul Hodge said. “He’s a very complicated person, but I think we all are. My view of all of the people involved in the story is that they’re all very complicated human beings.”