Will Ferrell’s new Broadway play You’re Welcome America, a Final Night with George W. Bush won’t be airing on HBO until March, but it is now out of previews at the Cort Theater in New York.I had a chance to see the play on its first night of previews, inauguration day, Jan. 20. Below are some thoughts on that performance. It isn’t a review per se, because some elements of the show may have changed since I saw it.
The show, during its hour and 15 minute runtime alternates between being gut-bustingly hysterical and quieter moments interrupted by polite laughs. It also relies on some shock comedy that fans of Family Guy (or many of Ferrell’s movies) will find hysterical, but your average New York theatergoer would find cheap. As an example, there is full frontal male nudity, ostensibly to imply that President Bush is compensating for something, but really existing more to surprise the crowd. There is also a (fictional) recollection of what happened during Bush’s AWOL time from the Texas Air National Guard. I won’t spoil it for you, but once again the jokes come down to scatological humor.
Ferrell’s Bush is very good. From the moment he drops onstage from Marine One into “The faggy theater district,” his mannerisms and voice are unmistakable. Of course, that his impression was solid was never under question, he honed it weekly during his tenure at Saturday Night Live.
You’re Welcome America is also a very political show. Not exactly a surprise, but if you are a Republican or Bush supporter, you probably won’t have a good time.
Ferrell keeps the show current, noting that he had been flown up after the inauguration some eight hours ago, and cracking a joke about Dick Cheney being in a wheelchair to make a quick getaway after stealing the Lincoln bible so Obama couldn’t be sworn in.
There is also some interactivity with the crowd, with Bush asking some guests where they were from (”oh, Canada? I hear it gets cold in the Winter there.” Followed by a very smarmy “Nice to have ya.”). Ferrell’s Bush also attempts some improv, harkening back to the comedian’s days at The Groundlings improve troupe. Bush attempts to give audience members on the spot nicknames, as he did with the White House Press Corps. One gentleman in the audience said his job was to hand out flyers on the street, His new nickname was “Paper Trail.”
Ferrell is not alone on stage, as a few other cast members make appearances, though none speak. The most prominent is the secret service agent, played by Patrick Ferrell, Will Ferrell’s brother. The agent scans the crowd throughout the evening from stage left, only during costume changes does his personality slowly come out, to comedic effect.
The scene stealer however is Pia Glenn, playing former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. I won’t spoil it, but her appearance is one of the funniest and most surprising of the night.
The show is at its weakest point in the middle, where long monologues with a few scattered laughs slow the pace down. They are reminiscent of an old Saturday Night Live sketch that should have ended, but keeps on going. There may be a few chuckles, but the joke was over and the show should have moved on.
You’re Welcome America is a refreshing show that is sure to make any liberal laugh, though some of the more erudite guests may cringe at the sexual jokes. Fans of Ferrell’s work will not be disappointed. Despite some slowness in the middle the show holds up and generally meets the hype, provided you know what to expect from Ferrell. David Mamet this is not, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
And yes, shoes will be thrown.