After a topsy-turvy year in which a majority of Americans’ worst fears were either realized or surpassed, the creators of the new musical comedy America’s Favorite Newscaster hope that you’re ready to laugh at the calamity. It’s a tall order, especially since we’re still in the midst of our long national nightmare. But, although a lot of us have pinned our hopes to a certain lantern-jawed ex-FBI director, maybe satirizing our political lunacy can also help sweep it away. It’s worked before. Of course, in the case of our current presidential predicament, satire may have met its match, since it’s very difficult to caricature a caricature.
Still, composer Arthur Abrams and librettist/lyricist Tom Attea have taken up the challenge with results that are both sweet-natured and lackluster. Unlike our reality-TV-star-in-chief, who Attea’s script refuses to name, America’s Favorite Newscaster is a shining model of restraint, never aiming its barbs too low but also rarely eliciting more than a polite chuckle. To be honest, the musical’s most comically effective aspect is Angela Harriell’s choreography, which provides enough physical humor to distract us from the less comically effective score.
Our titular hero, Evan Fury (Isaac Miller), a much-respected journalistic wunderkind, is at an emotional crossroads. Because of his unrelenting ethics and critical reporting he has drawn the president’s vitriolic attention–in tweet form, as you might expect. He also is on the verge of being kicked to the curb by his unhappy, and pregnant, wife (Alexandra Schwartz), who the work-obsessed Fury never sees. After some soul searching, he decides to give up his career, save his rocky marriage, and spend the rest of his life watching television in his underwear while his ten-dollar vocabulary goes to waste. His surname is, I guess, meant to be ironic, since it conflicts so strongly with his prized equanimity, which manifests itself in long-winded civics lessons, punctuated with quotes from Swift, Whitman, Plato, and other smarties who wouldn’t much like that guy in the White House, either.
Another irony is that while Fury is kind of a bore, another character is not. Yeah, you guessed it. Him. When the president (David O. Friedman) appears in Fury’s bedroom like the Ghost of Christmas Present, Attea’s writing finally comes to life. His take on you-know-who isn’t unique, but the situation is wonderfully silly, and Friedman’s impression is a funny profile in petulance.
Essentially, the baby-faced Fury is a junior Walter Cronkite, and Attea’s Capraesque point seems to be that we desperately need him to stay in that anchor chair, defending democracy against the person we elected to defend democracy. Sure, okay, but we haven’t really had a Walter Cronkite since Walter Cronkite, so most audience members probably won’t understand why Fury’s decision matters one way or the other. Maybe it’s a tragedy if you don’t care. It’s certainly an anachronism if you do.
Director Mark Marcante keeps things moving briskly on the triptych set he also designed, which helps the game cast hold our attention. Their voices range from adequate to good, which is fine since the ratio of score to book is tilted in the latter’s favor, or at least it felt that way. A few songs are close to memorable, but they need another revision or two.
The lighting and sound design by Alexander Bartenieff and Alex Santullo, respectively, nicely navigates a few tricky moments. In particular, the two of them, along with prop designer Lytza Colon, combine their talents to stage an awards show scene that comes off without a hitch.
On the whole, however, problems for America’s Favorite Newscaster are more the rule than the exception. And, at best, all it really does is preach to a choir that already knows the sermon by heart.
America’s Favorite Newscaster (through January 28, 2018)
Theater for the New City, 155 First Avenue, between 9th and 10th Streets, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-254-1109 or visit http://www.theaterforthenewcity.net
Running time: two hours including one intermission