Pros: Sharply observed lyrics and a wonderful cast poking fun at the American political system.
Cons: No truly outstanding, show-stopping tunes to raise the musical’s profile.
At the end of a tumultuous week for British politics, it’s refreshing to get a reminder of how they do things stateside. Vote For Me was the ideal vehicle for an irreverent look at the uniquely American approach to politics. The London Theatre Workshop occupies a well-appointed studio space above the Eel Brook public house and such pleasant surroundings made the experience even more enjoyable. The plot concentrates on a televised Presidential debate between Democrat candidate Janet Tilghman and Republican candidate Buddy Rounsaville. Their spouses, Roger Tilghman and Amy Rounsaville are in close attendance, as is their slick, scheming special advisor and TV host Robyn Fieldler.
The story wastes no time in stressing the American obsession with glitz and glamour, and candidates’ almost pitiful dependence on special advisors. Their deep yearning to speak without spin is plain, as is the realisation they are only human and being consumed by fear of one stray comment signing their political death warrant. The spouses meanwhile have their own motivation for wishing respective partners to succeed; Amy Rounsaville desperately wants to be first lady and revels in the idea of living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, whilst the earnestly sincere Roger Tilghman, in a great performance by Arvid Larson, wants his wife to win but ponders whether he would be diminished as a result: first lady…first husband…first man?! The Advisor, decked in a grey suit and sharp haircut is smart, manipulative but has a distinctly oily presence captured incredibly convincingly by Joe Leather. And then there’s the beleaguered, frustrated TV anchor, convinced she would make a better President than Tilghman or Rounsaville. Lucy Grainger was frenetically effective in this role, bringing into the show the infamous role of the media in US elections.
The debate is periodically suspended to illustrate the exhaustive coaching that goes into every question answered, statement made and weakness exploited. The songs are bristly with incisive, sometimes surprising observations on American politics. For example, in the table of nations’ voting it turnouts America is only 140th! With UK elections on every audience member’s mind, we also appreciate how our own politicians have imported American ideas with an almost religious zeal. The choreography is surprisingly complex for the scale of production and I have never seen such a hardworking cast; they sweated buckets and all deserve an honourable mention. Emily Lynne was incredibly engaging as Janet Tilghman, Hans Rye, made a wonderfully dizzy Buddy Rounsaville and Jennie Jacobs was brilliantly seductive and vampish as Amy Rounsaville.
The show finished with an interactive flourish as the audience voted for their preferred candidate via a red or blue card. The truth can often be funny and this pointed look at American politics was well received when it ran off Broadway last year, but I wonder what our friends across the pond would make of this very perceptive UK treatment of the same show. The only weak spot I could detect is the lack of a big number to bring the house down as the show is a musical after all, but that aside it was a most entertaining 90 minutes of musical theatre.
Authors: Scott Elmegreen and Drew Fornarola
Director: Dom O’Hanlon
Musical Director: Chris Guard
Producer: Olga-Marie Pratt for the London Theatre Workshop
Booking link: https://live.advancedticketing.co.uk/
Booking until: 23 May 2015