Palace songs skewer both left and right
December 21, 2005
The current Crystal Palace show is equal-opportunity satire.Sure, George W. Bush gets two entire tunes to himself; there’s way too much material there to be contained in one song. But the Clintons and Howard Dean get poked almost as hard as Bush. So, the Palace at times leans as far to the right as it does to the left.
What the Crystal Palace doesn’t do, however, is stoop. While the notion of dinner theater might conjure up images of lowest common denominator entertainment – meat and potatoes and “Hello, Dolly!” revivals – the Palace gives its audience a hearty serving of respect. Sure, the Palace show can be appreciated without a working knowledge of the latest in sports, politics, medicine and pop culture. But it is packed with subtle references that add an extra layer of meaning and comedy.In “I’m Not Running,” for instance, veteran Palace performer Meredith Nelson-Daniel exposes Hillary Clinton’s slicker tendencies. The sketch envisions Clinton in New Hampshire, chatting up “the voters – I mean, folks” – about such topics as health care, while insisting she’s not there looking for votes. “I’m not running, but I could use a grand / And if you believe that, I’ve got a deal on Arkansas land,” sings Daniel. It’s an old twist on the “I’ve got a swamp to sell you” – but one that squeezes in a reference to the Whitewater deal that landed Hillary in hot soup. “Stem Cells,” with three dancing, singing blastocysts musing about what their future holds, plays as broad comedy. “Baseball on Steroids,” featuring a quartet of pumped-up athletes, works well on a strictly visual level. But the deeper a viewer’s knowledge of medicine, sports and the debates swirling around each, the richer both bits get.
The show gives the audience as much credit for tolerance as it does intelligence; Palace owner Mead Metcalf, after 49 years in town, recognizes he gets more latitude in Aspen than he would in, say, Colorado Springs. “The Virgin Mary in the Grilled Cheese” plays off a real-life sighting of Mary – but then extends it further into the fantastical, as a head-banging musician reports spotting the Virgin Mother in his water pipe. “I thought I was tripping / But what I was smoking was not that strong.” Probably not the kind of stuff for Grandma Millie.Still, the Palace walks the line splendidly between accessibility and aiming high. The topics it sends up are not esoteric. But the manner in which they wade into these waters can be bizarrely offbeat. Any current-events satire could include Hurricane Katrina. But who would think to blame it on Thomas Jefferson, for orchestrating the Louisiana Purchase of 1803? “It’s Thomas Jefferson’s Fault” is a highlight piece – a Mardi Gras parade, with Michael Monroney’s Jefferson staggering around in a silent, drunken stupor, as the residents of New Orleans plead to have their city rebuilt: “We need a place to film ‘Girls Gone Wild.'”
Gary Daniel gets a pair of star turns as the current president. In “Dubya Rides Again,” he’s the cowboy leader of the free world, in white hat and fur chaps (“Africastan, Palikastan … / My weakest subject in school was geology”); in “I Wish I was Drinking Again,” he’s looking to drown his troubles in his old habits (“I bet Betty Ford left some hooch around here”). Other memorable numbers include “Lost in a Red State” (“Banjos … we hear banjos,” sings the family of New Yorkers) and “Condi, Rummy and Dick.” The Palace is a treat from beginning to end. Literally. The show kicks off with ground rules sung by a barbershop quartet, and ends with pianist Michael McAssey showing a stand-up’s timing as he sings “You’re In Denial.”