Under Gabrielle L. Kurlander’s intricate direction, Votes presents a moving and personal picture of the real lives and feelings of an extremely powerful couple in America. Votes brings a more human side to their relationship – recalling how Melanie, played by Lisa Wright-Mathews, and William Jefferson (Wayne Miller), met as law students at Yale. It shines a light on their early plans to do some good in the world – all with a twinkle in their eyes as Melanie recalls how she first fell in love with the “pimply kid from Arkansas.” As this couple ages, they question if it was all worth it and consider what they are actually playing for, as this Election 2016 offers the bold chance to do something different.
Having these high-profile candidates let their hair down through upbeat and witty musical numbers provides an extra-special treat for audiences. Through the chaos, pressure, and challenging moments, Melanie and William always had their unique lyrics and passion for making up songs to keep the fun alive in their marriage. Songs like “They Don’t Inhale at Yale” pokes fun at the 1960’s and remind Melanie and William of their crazy college days. Both Wright-Mathew and Miller have soft, lovely voices and the allow the audience to get a sense of who they were as true human beings and how they felt beneath the surface. Other crowd-pleasers included the honest-to-goodness “The Rules of the Game” and the snappy “Votes.”
The chemistry between Wright-Mathew and Miller is thrilling to witness, as it teems with the bickering and compromise struggles of any other married couple – but with a thousand times more pressure and scrutiny being in the public eye. A constant in their relationship has always been the ability to have fun with each other and never have secrets – always being on the same team and playing to win. While Melanie looks so put-together on TV and in front of crowds, she is able to let her guard down with her husband and express her deepest concerns and vice versa. They even bring in marriage counselor, Mrs. Shrunk, played by Frances McGarry, as a way to tackle their marital problems after the Lewinsky scandal because that’s what “normal” couples do. Another interesting element is witnessing the relationship between Melanie and her trusted pal and advisor, Vivian (Debbie Buchsbaum) who isn’t afraid to challenge her and call her out on the nonsense – forcing her to take an honest look at her power and what it can do to change the political game.
The handsome White House intern Brett played by Bryan Austermann and perky aide Maria (Tori Ogunsanya) round out the cast – lending their delightful voices, as well as some graceful dance moves. Former ABC reporter, Art McFarland, plays a role that has suited him for years – the newscaster – announcing all of the election updates via video screen and charming audiences once again. The costume designer, Kerry Gibbons, adds some flair to this cast’s ensembles with tricked-out All-American garb that Lady Liberty herself would be proud of. Oversize flag shirts, stars and stripes galore add pizzazz to the reprise of “Votes,” while smart attire – blazers, suits, heels are selected for the polished First Lady turned political candidate and her husband. The set designer, Miguel Romero, carefully switches out two sets – one resembling a hotel suite on the eve of the election and the other representing the Oval Office in 1999, with large stars doubling as chairs and resting places for the cast to use – stylish and practical.
Votes is a welcomed break in the current world of political madness and will give audiences something to smile about – even if it’s just a false hope for the state of the country’s future. Entertaining, whimsical, and smart, Votes is just the ticket.
Votes (extended through May 22, 2016)
Castillo Theatre, 543 West 42nd Street, between 10th and 11th Avenues, in Manhattan
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission