BY SANDY STAGGS
Tracey Ullman used to close her variety show in her dressing gown and shooing the audience with the catchphrase: Go home!
And that’s just how Susan Smith opens “Tweet America Great Again,” the current original musical comedy show that’s sardonic, pointed and thoroughly satisfying and playing through May 6 at the Café and Then Some.
Telling an eager crowd at last Saturday’s performance that the troupe is usually an equal opportunity lampooner of politicians regardless of party affiliation, Ms. Smith, one of the co-founders of this 33-year-old Greenville institution, said that all went out the window since the November election.
“What’s the point now? If you can’t handle laughing at politicians, you should go home, really,” she cautioned with a puckish smile.
Mystery is the customary genre for most dinner theatre, but Café and Then Some is billed as the South’s only comedy dinner theatre. And the gang at CATS has perfected a real brand over the years with original satirical sketch comedy musicals with hilarious song parodies inspired by current events, local places and people, and often with longtime recurring characters.
This show is the sequel to “Trumped: The Musical” which also lambasted Trump, along with Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and the other major players in the contentious election. The new lyrics here to 1960s and ‘70s songs were written by Ms. Smith, co-founder husband Bill Smith and son Matt Smith, along with Traysie Amick, who has been with the troupe since 2004.
“Tweet America Great Again” opened on January 19, right before Trump took the oath of office, so the sting from the election and his colorful coterie of characters on staff may have worn off some and not seem right-out-of-the-oven-fresh at this late in the run, but the script is constantly updated and now reflects Trump’s first 100 days in office.
And Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon have nothing on Jim Wilkins’ President Trump or Ms. Amick’s Kellyanne Conway’s who nails the blonde frozen-smile face of his campaign, particularly in her musical plea to the President set to “Think, Think, Think Before You Speed Tweet!”, her rollicking, clever take on Aretha Franklin’s “Think.”
Wilkins engulfs this part and embraces our sitting president, little hands and feet and all: the twitches and constant eye-blinking, the pouty lip, the golden comb-over and lots of “Huge” promises. He spouts one malapropism after another (“Pomp and Circumcision”), pinches women’s bottoms, is flagrant with his ties to Russia and has no compassion for the middle class and poor. And Wilkens soars in his solo about his shortcomings, “I don’t know much about fill-in-the-blank” in a spoof of Sam Cooke’s “(What a) Wonderful World.”
Lauren Wilson commits with panache to an original character, Gertrude Von Bruin, Trump’s German-born but Russian-educated secretary who is an obvious Russian double-agent who is constantly recommending design tips from the Kremlin such and oversized chandelier for the Oval Office, blinged-out with listening devices.
Amick and Wilson also provide much of the “Laugh-In” at the White House flavor with spot-on backup vocals and the brunt of the choreography as go-go dancers and briefly with puppets.
And Brian Coker, who just stepped in as Trump strategist Steve Bannon (Trev Furlong just ended his long run as Bannon), was still getting his mojo Saturday night. He has the toughest part to pin down since Bannon’s personality isn’t that well know with the general public and difficult to convey to comedic effect. But Coker has already zeroed in on a persona for his most-convincing role as the psychiatrist Dr. Firefly.
But the local crux of this homegrown story rests in the dynamic duo of Ms. Smith and partner-in-comedy Maureen Abdalla, who reprise two of their popular alter-egos for this production.
Smith’s Norma Jean, the self-proclaimed big ole’ country and western star, and Abdalla’s Dot McJunkin, her bff with really, really big hair, are two women living on the wrong side of the tracks and sip Mr. Bacardi while watching The Donald’s balls on the television. Get you mind out of the gutter! The Donald’s Inauguration Balls, but yes the gang gets a lot of mileage from his balls. Plus, these good ol’ gals take a little trip to the Oval Office in the second act.
And they reunite as the longtime, well-to-do Republican friends from the haute Augusta Road area, Mary Louise Earl McDaniel Hampton Pinckney (Smith) and Veranda Bannister (Abdalla) – is it just me, or don’t these sound like drag queen names?
Just as many friendships and familial relationships were tested during the last election, Mary Louise and Veranda have their own irreconcilable differences about what occurred in the ballot booth and seek assistance from the aforementioned shrink. And these lifetime GOP supporters decide to escape America for a while on a 4-year (or maybe 8-year) cruise on the Queen Elizabeth 2.
Sadly, Ms. Abdalla was out of town for this performance and Matt Smith eloquently filled her shoes, literally, as well as wore Dot’s triple-sized beehive wig, which had some trouble clinging to Matt’s shaved head and was hilariously tilted like the leaning Tower of Pisa for the entire show. He was amazing and a good sport, and his chemistry with step-mother Ms. Smith provided a healthy dose of ad-lib jokes and exude a certain air of Southern hospitality, like they have welcomed us into the family home to make us laugh, be merry and have a good time.
The gang has turn it up in this show and piercing one-liners go by so quickly you almost don’t have time to close your jaw before the next bomb drops. For example, there was a comment about Senator Lindsey Graham and Rep Trey Gowdy doing each other’s hair after hours and Smith ponders Melania Trump’s intelligence with “I hope she’s smarter than she lets on.”
Then, there’s the rollicking music like the “Tweet, Tweet” back-up vocal interjections in “Tweet Donald” set to Bobby Day’s “Rockin’ Robin,” the shock-and-awe of “You Make Me Feel Like a Real Nasty Woman,” and the smashing finale of a 1970s megahit with some familiar dance steps from the early 1990s. That’s all you will get from me. You will have to Tweet with Donald yourself.
After “Tweet America Great Again” closes on Saturday, May 6, the CATS folks start rehearsals the next day on an new show that will be workshopped live on book (with scripts) for month or so. I did get the inside track from Ms. Smith about the title and it sounds enticing. They will be announcing the show soon.
“Tweet America Great Again” continues Wednesdays – Saturdays through May 6 so make your reservations now! Dinner and Show seating is from 6:30 – 7:15 p.m. Show-only seating begins at 7:30 p.m. and show starts at 8 p.m. Show-only tickets are $20 plus tax. Café and Then Some is located at 101 College Street in Greenville. Call (864) 232-CATS or visit http://cafeats.com/.