This is on HBO tonight - 9PM EDT - anybody else planning on watching?
THEATER REVIEW | 'YOU’RE WELCOME AMERICA. A FINAL NIGHT WITH GEORGE W BUSH'
The Comedy of Ineptitude, Political Division
By BEN BRANTLEY - NY Times - February 6, 2009
The 43rd president of the United States, who is known for his gift for instant nicknames, is generously sharing his talent these days with audiences at the Cort Theater, home to “You’re Welcome America. A Final Night With George W Bush.” Toward the end of this largely unsurprising, uh, celebration of one man’s life and accomplishments, Mr. Bush, reincarnated by the comedian and movie star Will Ferrell, asks theatergoers to tell him their occupations, so he can give them the gift of his own pet names.
“Occupational therapist,” called out one woman at the performance I attended. “Helen Keller,” answered Mr. Ferrell as Mr. Bush, without pausing to think. “Bike messenger,” said another person. “I’ll call you Lance Armstrong,” responded Mr. Ferrell. But the coup de grâce came when a voice (not mine) yelled, “Reviewer,” and the man onstage answered, with the impact of a thrusting sword, “Obsolete profession.”
Touché, Mr. President. Or more to the point: Touché, Mr. Ferrell. The days when criticism of Mr. Bush could be censured as unpatriotic may be long gone, but Mr. Ferrell arrives on Broadway armed with the deflector shield of his sky-high popularity. In “You’re Welcome America,” written by Mr. Ferrell and directed by Adam McKay, the actor provides a critic-proof demonstration of the art that has endeared him to millions of fans around the world: the art of acting stupid, shrewdly, for fun and profit.
Some might say that this is a talent shared by the man Mr. Ferrell impersonates. But the George W. Bush of “You’re Welcome America” — which officially opened Thursday night but has already been doing near-capacity business in previews — is just stupid, without the shrewdness.
He’s a cocky but bumbling fellow, trapped forever in puberty, always eager to play and eternally armored in the self-assurance that often goes with a lack of self-knowledge. He is given to jaw-dropping malapropisms and misinterpretations, and he has a raunchy exhibitionist streak. He is, in other words, a typical leading man from a Will Ferrell comedy. And his life and times, as portrayed here, are not unlike what might happen if the middle-aged adolescent played by Mr. Ferrell in his recent film “Step Brothers” (directed by Mr. McKay) were, by some bizarre fluke, thrust into the American presidency.
Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon inspired stage satires cast in the mold of Shakespearean and Greek tragedies. Mr. Bush gets a comedy of ineptitude.
By these standards you might say that in cultural terms the George W. Bush of “You’re Welcome America” is exactly the right leader for his time: a man who translated the most enduringly popular movie archetype of the last two decades — the clueless doofus — into the most powerful political position in the world. Further expanding and exaggerating that archetype (as many satirists and op-ed columnists have done), Mr. Ferrell now presents George W. Bush in the White House as the ultimate sequel to “Dumb and Dumber.”
Mr. Ferrell had already forged his vision of Mr. Bush in sketches on “Saturday Night Live,” and much of what he does here is a retread of those impersonations. (It seems right that the show will be presented live as an HBO special.) Unlike Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin, Mr. Ferrell’s Bush is less exact imitation than loopy extrapolation. And the show feels freshest when he goes off on surreal tangents that transport his blundering hero into the ether of pure absurdism.
There is comic genius in riffs that take Mr. Bush into an abandoned mine shaft with his father and brother, whence they are delivered by a Homerically heroic Barbara Bush, and to a secret military base in North Carolina, where he supervises the training of monkeys with spear guns (meant both to destroy insurgent Iraqis and to entertain children). This is the stuff of inspired stand-up, when a comedian follows a corkscrew logic into strange, scary and wondrous lands that feel truer than the truth.
Some set pieces are only for titillating shock effect, like the one in which Mr. Bush speaks of a homoerotic idyll with a man he met while participating in a foursome (which he thought was a threesome, math being one of his many weak suits). Parents with Ferrell-loving kids should know that the show features a giant projected photo of what is said to be Mr. Bush’s penis. “That’s what I call shock and awe, right there,” Mr. Ferrell says, pointing to the image.
As you may have gathered, Mr. Ferrell does not go out of his way to avoid the obvious. “Wipe that smirk off your face, do you hear me?” he says to a man in the audience. “I was a cheerleader at Yale.” He refers to opening “the anals of history.” There are jokes about freedom fries and Dick Cheney as a devil worshiper. And, yes, a shoe or two will be thrown before the production’s end.
Mr. Ferrell’s Bush makes gloating reference to Americans’ short attention spans, an affliction this show’s creators seem to know is shared by many Broadway theatergoers. So they have provided vaudevillian diversions, including a break-dancing Secret Service agent (Patrick Ferrell, brother of Will) and a Condoleezza Rice reimagined as a red-hot lap dancer by Pia Glenn. There is even, in the crowd-pleasing tradition of “Mary Poppins,” an entrance from the heavens.
Mr. Ferrell and Mr. McKay have enlisted a first-rate production team that includes the estimable Eugene Lee (sets) and Brian MacDevitt (lighting). The show looks slick, and Mr. Ferrell has an ace comedian’s knowledge of how to keep the audience with him, even when his material is spotty. Occasionally the production slides into solemnity, with catalogs of the consequences of the Bush administration’s dealings with war and the disaster of Hurricane Katrina.
“You’re Welcome America” dips into these pockets of darkness only long enough to suggest where Mr. Ferrell’s political sympathies lie. I suppose the show might provide some cathartic value to anti-Bu****es who feel they never really got to snort goodbye to their departed commander in chief.
But ultimately this production is less about the legacy of George W. Bush than it is about the comic persona that has been perfected by Will Ferrell. “You’re Welcome America” is a lot like Mr. Ferrell’s more middling movies, not quite on a level with “Blades of Glory” or “Talladega Nights.” Sometimes it’s really funny, and sometimes it sort of sags. I laughed, I yawned.
YOU’RE WELCOME AMERICA.