by Chris Jones
April 24, 2009
If you’re a satirist, the former governor of Illinois just keeps on giving.
When Second City’s gonzo “Rod Blagojevich Superstar!” opened last February as a quickly conceived and intensely cathartic Tuesday night spoof, we all reckoned that interest in a musical jog through fate of the disgraced gov would wane, just as soon the grating, sucking, Obama-buzz-killing sound of the Fitzgerald tapes faded from peoples’ ears.
Well, Blagojevich had other plans. Thanks to the Letterman shtick, the spot on “The View,” the Larry King interview, the NBC reality show offering the potential of international flight, et cetera, et cetera, the real Blago has done everything but write the script of a show about his own, ongoing self-delusion. In fact, he even interviewed members of the cast during his morning drive-time gig on WLS-AM, a deliciously clueless cultural disruption that nearly made me choke on my morning toast. No wonder, then, that “RBS!” has now morphed into a full-blown, prime-time show packing the upstairs theater at Chicago Shakespeare Theater (an especially apt locale for the Patti Blagojevich-as-Lady-Macbeth subtext). On Thursday night, multifarious folks were sucking down Blagotinis, beer (“it’s bleepin’ golden”), Quinn and tonics, and Rodka Cranberries, lapping up the hour-long political amusement penned by Ed Furman and T. J. Shanoff, two of the Midwest’s best comedy writers.
The show is doing so well, Second City Theatricals and Chicago Shakespeare Theater are announcing a six-week extension through the middle of June. At a time when the coasts are, as ever, trying to dictate cultural trends to us Midwesterners, this show is a great reminder of how the tradition of Chicago comedy is one of singular richness. You get the hour-long show and a nightly improv set, featuring the Blagojevich plot developments of the week, currently including “Rod’s Island,” a faux-reality show in the “Survivor” mode.
Better yet, the piece is even better now.
There is a great deal of stellar, new Roland Burris material (speaking of those who keep on giving), featuring Senator B. requesting favors for his offspring, Rolanda and Roland, Jr. “He’s facing foreclosure,” says Sam Richardson’s beautifully self-involved Burris, “on a property he bought for a dollar.”
New lines abound. “Just when you thought you could relax,” goes one lyric, “Pat Quinn’s gonna jack up your income tax.”
But the real growth in this show has come from Joey Bland, initially a somewhat hesitant Blago but now a richly textured egomaniac with, crucially, a likable emotional center that goes some way—nothing could go all the way—to explain how this allegedly corrupt pol was twice elected by the people of Illinois.
In some newly extended scenes with Lori McClain’s hilarious, foul-mouthed Patti, you get the beginning of a cohesive biographical narrative of a scrapper who got in bed with the machine, made the mistake of thinking he was bigger than the machine, was spit out by the machine, and lashed back at the machine, causing his own destruction.
Here it’s all just a musical joke. But as with all great comedy, you start to see the kernels of deeper truths.
Learn more about the production.