The New London Day
Published January 16. 2020 1:22PM | Updated January 16. 2020 2:03PM
By Lee Howard Day staff writer
Laced with catchy tunes and reminders of the mind-bending events of the Donald Trump presidency, the John Waller comic rock-opera-in-progress "You're Fired! A Musical History of the Trump Years" had a full house on its feet last weekend at the Donald Oat Theater in Norwich.
For many in the raucous audience, which included on Jan. 10 state Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, it appeared to be a cathartic experience, allowing them to boo and catcall a president whose popularity has been consistently low and who is currently facing impeachment hearings in the U.S. Senate.
Waller, co-founder of Connecticut Lyric Opera and a Mystic resident, said the show began with little songs he wrote for the amusement of friends and his mother, a lifelong Democrat who died in 2018. Soon he realized he had something substantial: a total of 28 musical numbers, the strongest 13 of which were highlighted last weekend.
The show elicited a strong reaction, thanks to the witty lyrics, high-quality singers, lively playing by a four-piece band and factual (though cherry-picked) recounting of a presidency many in the audience clearly despised.
"Can I barf?" yelled out one audience member when the musical turned to Trump's election in November 2016.
After a news commentator on stage said, "What the hell just happened?" as the network called Trump the winner, a catcall came back. "Exactly. What the hell just happened?"
The musical faithfully recounts some of the Trump presidency's lowlights, including former White House press secretary Sean Spicer's insistence that his boss's inauguration was the best-attended ever, political adviser Kellyanne Conway's reference to a nonexistent Bowling Green massacre to justify a travel and immigration ban on people from Muslim-majority countries, the separation of children from their families at the Mexican border, and, of course, Conway's invocation of "alternative facts."
It's not a musical likely to inspire support from Trump backers, though there is one humorous scene in which Hillary Clinton, played by Deanna Swanson, sings "I want you to like me, but I know that you don't."
Then again, there are hilarious numbers featuring Phred Mileski as Melania Trump trying to get out of her impossible marriage and Melanie Varricchione as Stormy Daniels singing the "Million Dollar Blues," a sly reference to the $130,000 payment the adult film star received from former Trump attorney Michael Cohen that included a $1 million penalty if she ever told her story of the affair that occurred shortly after Melania gave birth.
"What happened that night? I can't really say," Stormy says wistfully. "I wish I could tell you, but I signed an NDA."
Other characters from the Trump years include the president himself, ably sung by musical theater veteran John Swanson, who dons a golden wig and a smug smile for the role as he sings "I'm the Only One" and "No Collusion, No Collusion"; a once-corrupt Cohen, sung by Ricky Hamilton, admitting to his faults and trying, as his song said, to make "Amends," and a bluesy former FBI director James Comey, played by Tyler Campbell, who recounts his need to take notes when meeting with Trump to "cover my ass."
Waller, who has never had his own work staged before, admits that he had a lot of help putting together the pieces of "You're Fired," including musical arrangements by Aymeric Dupré la Tour, stage direction by Jan Mason and choral direction by Dara Blackstone Hayashi. Most of the people involved are personal friends of Waller and his opera-star wife, Jurate, who played a small role in the chorus.
Waller said he hopes to bring the show to a variety of venues as the 2020 presidential campaign gears up. In addition, he is offering the show royalty-free to any other group that wants to stage it, and he is planning to put all the numbers on YouTube.
"I think it's got legs, "he said. "We've got good feedback."
And unlike many musicals of its ilk, the words adhere pretty closely to the actual events, having been pulled from contemporaneous interviews and news stories. The end may be a surprise, though, as it imagines Trump's era ending with one last moment of clarity.
"I gave myself the gift of prophesy," Waller said. "It shows the inherent beauty in every one of us, even Donald Trump."
The real ending, of course, has yet to be told. But since "You're Fired" is clearly still in its workshop phase, there's always time for a rewrite.
Chorus Members sing 'We are the Resistance' of the rock opera 'You're Fired!' by John Waller.
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