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by Lucy Komisar

Photo from 'A Good Swift Kick'
Wanda Houston, Jim Newman, David Naughton, D'Monroe, and Elisa Surmont are tuneful and witty in "A Good Swift Kick." (Photo: Joan Marcus)

"A Good Swift Kick"
Words and Music by John Forster, directed by Paul Kreppel
Produced by Sandy Faison, Chase Mishkin, Steven Levy, Leonard Soloway
Variety Arts Theatre, 110 Third Avenue at 13th Street
Opened July 29, 1999
Reviewed by Lucy Komisar July 27, 1999
This wildly funny, original, intelligent satirical revue had me and the rest of the press preview audience laughing nonstop. Its skewering of politics, culture, and the way we live is right on the mark. The cast of five enormously talented performers -- Wanda Houston, Jim Newman, David Naughton, D'Monroe, and Elisa Surmont -- have voices matched by winning style and personality. They are shown off to superb effect by director Paul Kreppel's inventive staging.

The show eschews obvious, easy shots and opts for subtlety and wit. For example, it's easy to parody Bill and Monica. You'll get none of that silly stuff here. Instead, Forster devises a number called "Legacy" which, with David Naughton holding a Washington Monument snow globe, wonders about the desire of our presidents to think about their "legacies," as if they were something to be calculated and planned. Wanda Houston does a mean Nixon imitation and then segues to an equally uncanny Mrs. Roosevelt, who wants to know, "What is this huge fixation on the future view of what we do?"

Foster twits the penchant of countries to grab territory. Marching Chinese soldiers in red-star fatigue caps sing about "One Billion Little Emperors," China's only-children, who want everything. "They've already got Tibet and Hong Kong, now they want Taiwan." Elisa Surmont does a German unification ditty: "We're whole, not quite. We need half of Poland to really be whole.........." It reaches the sublime when the Valkerie maiden (Houston) suddenly appears behind a screen to the swelling of Wagnerian music.

There are riffs on the various ways in which the public (domestic and foreign) interest is abused. "Don't ask, don't tell," includes ballet steps intercut with martial drill. A number on PACs reminds us how the NRA and other flush lobby groups buy off Congress. To a rumba beat and with ruffled sleeves, D'Monroe raps about how McDonald's cuts down rainforests to get land to graze beef. There is a marked liberal tinge; this may not please some conservatives.

Culture also comes in for knocks. A wicked piece, "Fusion," to South African sounds, suggests that Paul Simon appropriates other people's music. Newman and Surmont remind one of a recent disaster movie when they sing in "Way Down Deep" about how shallow they are, "truly dumb and kind of glazed." Houston, in a boa, does a brilliant parody torch song, "Codependent With You." The clever "Passing" takes off on the discovery that Thomas Jefferson had a lot of descendents who are black. And "The Tragique Kingdom," a French Disneyland, features Jerry Lewis as well as Mickey Mouse. Forster assumes a level of audience that knows Lewis is a French icon. This is a show for sophisticates. [Komisar]

Theater critic Lucy Komisar gives pre-show briefings and post-show discussions for theater parties to enrich playgoers' experiences. She'll also help find an appropriate show and make or advise on arrangements. Interested parties may telephone (212) 929-1610 for information.

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