Chicago Theatre Review
When Things Start Falling Apart
We the People: The Anti-Trump Musical – Flying Elephant Productions
Sean Chandler’s original new musical revue is basically a form of choral catharsis. It’s a song cycle, with music and lyrics by Leo Schwartz, that, for better or worse, follows the unexpected rise of Donald Trump. Audiences who voted for Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or any other candidate, will surely enjoy, or at least appreciate, this rhythmic retrospective of the past couple of years. Through its 65-minutes, theatergoers will revisit all the ups and downs of Mr. Trump’s political career, to date.
The revue opens with “City on the Hill,” an introduction to what many consider the beginning of the nightmare that was to come. As we prepare this week for Trump’s State of the Union Address, this ensemble piece launches into the turmoil that stemmed from Trump’s endorsement by the Republican Party and his bid for the Presidency. It continues with the ironic “America’s Promise.” Then, as the nation is deciding for whom they should vote, we witness two representative couples displaying their mixed feelings for Hillary Clinton, in “She’s a Woman.” This love/hate portrayal depicts how divided America was while the 2016 election drew near.
As the sun rises on the morning after what many feel was one of the most disappointing elections in American history, a mother desperately wonders what will I say? She then tries to explain to her concerned children “Who Won?” The evening continues with the “Inauguration Report,” humorously depicting the newly-elected president’s egotistical message outlining how he’s going to “Make America Great Again.” Many people’s outrage at how the archaic Electoral College was actually responsible for Trump’s election is spit out in the angry song, “538.”
The evening continues, musically reporting some of the highlights of Trump’s first 100 days in office. His bombastic views and edicts concerning those who came to this country to live the American Dream, and who have contributed much to our society, is characterized by “The Immigrants.” Various reactions to Trump’s politically insensitive criticism and condemnation of other countries and ethnic groups is presented by four performers playing “The Translators” from the United Nations.
The revue ramps up the anger, criticism and humor in the ensemble number, “Not My President;” and four very different individuals sing about Trump’s obsession with social media in “When He Tweets.” The biggest laugh of the evening comes from Schwartz’s lyric, delivered by a 13-year-old, who feels that when the President is Twittering, he’s speaking directly to him. One actor poignantly expresses his concern for the current state of America in “Perhaps,” detailing his remorse that the candidate for whom he voted is responsible for the mess. Two actors musically mourn and ask, “Where’d the Party Go?” In “I Wake Up Every Morning,” another actor echoes the many concerns of various U.S. citizens; and in “When Things Start Falling Apart,” the ensemble harmonically question, “how did we score this win and still lose?”
The revue ends with a gentle number simply entitled “Lullaby.” This touching song suggests that what many American’s could use right now is a kind of group therapy to help them get through whatever’s yet to come. Amid the chaos, lies, deception and authoritarian leadership of Donald Trump, the Nation is in for a long and continued bumpy ride. There’s the investigation into Trump’s Russian involvement, and that government’s possible interference with our last election, that still looms large. The President’s controversial criticism of other countries, his rash decisions regarding immigration and his unfair taxation of the middle and lower classes are equally appalling. The man’s bigotry toward women, people of color, the military, gay individuals and anyone who disagrees with him is plain disgusting. And Trump’s absurd determination to build a wall between Mexico and the U.S.A. are all part of what drives the vitriol and lampoonery of this cathartic revue.
Staged and guided by Derek Van Barham, with musical direction and piano accompaniment by Tyler Miles, this revue is a fitting production to launch this new company. After all, the group is dedicated to presenting new works “that are dynamic, impassioned and prone to fly.” That certainly sums up this production.
The cast includes six talented, young actor/singers who passionately express the views of Chandler and Schwartz. They include Dwayne Everett, Bradley Halverson, Elizabeth Rentfro, Carmen Fisher Risi, Alyssa Soto and Timothy Swaim. On Theron Wineinger’s modest set that depicts the Washington D.C. skyline, silhouetted against a silver fringed curtain, enhanced by projections designed by G. “Max” Maxin IV and adequately lit by Cat Wilson, this show is sharp, thoughtful and on point. It’s concisely written, very topical, and well-sung and performed by a cast who represent the next generation. After all, it’s these enlightened Millennials who will primarily be responsible for any change that will come during the next few years. Until then, we must simply hold on tight to each other “When Things Start Falling Apart.”
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented January 26-February 10 by Flying Elephant Productions at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago
Tickets are available in person at the box office, by calling 773-327-5252 or by going to www.stage773.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.