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THEATRE ‌ Heckuva Job

Conductor and composer Joshua Rosenblum trades his critic's creds for a shot at the big time (and the president)

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Janet Dickenson, Neal Mayer, and Michael McCoy brutalize the decider-in-chief
  • Janet Dickenson, Neal Mayer, and Michael McCoy brutalize the decider-in-chief

Bush Is Bad: Impeachment Edition
Tues. Oct. 3, 7 p.m.
$35
Charleston Music Hall
37 John St.
577-6000 or www.charlestondems.com

"My main job is to get people laughing. You can't out-argue somebody who's completely recused themselves from the strictures of logic and reason," says Joshua Rosenblum. "You can't out-bully a bully, but you can ridicule him and make him look ridiculous. And that's how he loses power. Once your enemy is a buffoon, he can't do anything, he becomes powerless."

Three nights a week, at New York City's Triad Theater, Rosenblum exercises the finer points of this jujitsu-styled defense against an enemy whose personal and professional qualities, such as they are, make him almost preternaturally susceptible to this kind of attack. Rosenblum's tools are a piano, three actors, and a lyrical gift whose considerable leverage he applies with the verbal equivalent of pliers and razor wire. By identifying his opponent's natural weaknesses and vulnerabilities, Rosenblum turns his enemy's strengths against him. The weaknesses: stupidity, hypocrisy, incompetence, privilege, corruption, delusion, greed, inflexibility, and arrogance, to name but a few.

His enemy, of course, is George W. Bush.

Since fall 2005, Rosenblum and his three actors — Janet Dickenson,Neal Mayer, and Michael McCoy — have lambasted The Decider and his administration at the Triad in a 75-minute musical sendup called Bush Is Bad: The Musical Cure for the Blue State Blues. The show, which began as an eight-performance wild hair Rosenblum and his left-leaning cohorts indulged to allay their grief in the wake of the 2004 election, became a certified blockbuster in post-election Manhattan, where dispairing blue-staters were as ubiquitous as loose chads in a Florida recount.

The production, a low-tech, 24-song musical review, included numbers like "New Hope for the Fabulously Wealthy," "Good Conservative Values," and "John Bolton Has Feelings Too." In "I'm Losing You, Karl," Rosenblum riffs on the "bulge" seen under the president's jacket during his first debate with John Kerry. "How Can 59 Million People Be So Dumb?" took its title from the infamous Nov. 5, 2004, headline in the London Daily Mirror.

Next Tuesday, on Oct. 3 at 7 p.m., Charlestonians will be able to get a taste of Rosenblum's wit for themselves when he and his team of scalpel-tongued actors will rip into the president with the all-new Bush Is Bad: Impeachment Edition at Charleston Music Hall, a fundraiser local activists have organized for the Charleston County Democratic Party.

There's a certain irony in Rosenblum's upcoming trip to the Lowcountry; in May, he traveled to Charleston for the first time as The Post and Courier's new Spoleto Overview Critic, the replacement for Blair Tindall, who was unable to return after her own stint in the position in 2005. Although the right-leaning paper made much of Rosenblum's other compositional and conducting accomplishments — his musical Fermat's Last Tango had an acclaimed production at the York Theatre in 2000 and he's wielded the baton as conductor for 12 Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, including a new production of How the Grinch Stole Christmas at the Hilton Theatre starting Oct. 25 — it curiously made no mention of Rosenblum's hot-ticket anti-Bush musical then running in New York. His second trip here, less than four months after he bid the newspaper adieu in June, is for a presentation of the very musical the P&C twisted itself into knots ignoring the last time he was here. (It'll be tougher to feign ignorance this time, with it in the back yard.)

In fact, Rosenblum is as affable and friendly a guy in person as his clever, hilarious lyrics are barbed. "I'm not trying to force my politics down the throats of local Republicans," he chuckles.

Rosenblum's first dip into the waters of political satire came in Sept. 2004, when he was invited to contribute three songs to an evening-long program called Political Follies at Symphony Space in New York. "It was fun," he recalls, "but it was really evenhanded. I felt like it was not quite sharp enough, it didn't go for the blood like I thought this stuff should. I thought it could have cut a little deeper. I felt like I could write something funny that would really go for the jugular and not pull any punches."

The Impeachment Edition of Bush Is Bad, which premiered in New York last week, contains 11 new songs, and each of them is aimed directly at the jugular. Among them: "Torture Has Been Very Good To Me," "Heck Of a Job," "Poor Jack Abramoff," and Wake Me When It's 2009." Longtime liberals may get a particular warm rush from a number midway through the show: "Won't You Please (Give This Guy a Blowjob So We Can Impeach Him)?"

""One thing I like to do is put their own words back in their mouths and make it clear how ridiculous it sounds," Rosenblum says. "A lot of the songs in the original version looked back to 2004. I wanted to do a new version that looks forward to the midterm elections and 2008."

Despite the polarizing veneer his show wears, Rosenblum's inspired lyric-writing assures that the comedy comes through loud and clear.

"Our rule is, if it's not funny, it's not going in. Funny is our first priority."

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