By Alex H. Nagler
George W. Bush’s disapproval rating was in the mid 70s when he left office, yet eight times a week since January 20, he receives a standing ovation at the Cort Theater on 48th Street between 7th and 8th Avenue in New York City. This bizarre occurrence has much to do with the fact that this specific George W. Bush is portrayed by Will Ferrell in the Broadway play, “You’re Welcome America: A Final Night with George W. Bush.”
Will Ferrell is new to Broadway, though he has incorporated songs and dance into some of his movies such as Step Brothers, Blades of Glory, and many vintage SNL routines. In 2005, he found himself singing and goose-stepping to Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” as Franz Liebkind and was nearly courted by director Susan Stroman to revive the role on stage. “You’re Welcome America” is Mr. Ferrell’s first foray onto Broadway, but hopefully it will not be his last.
Mr. Ferrell’s Bush has been unceremoniously dropped off by Marine One (or whatever the call sign for the helicopter bearing a former president is) in the middle of New York’s theater district and now finds himself face to face with an audience of critics. To lighten the mood, he shows them a picture of his penis. “Shock and awe, baby,” he laughs.
The first act of this hour and a half, no intermission play was a biography, reminding everyone that America’s most recent cowboy president was born in Connecticut, went to Andover Preparatory, Yale (where his nickname was Gin and Tonic), and Harvard, and went AWAL in the National Guard for a year. This year, according to Mr. Ferrell’s Bush, was spent in Vermont with then-lover David Rothchild. Always true to his standup roots, Mr. Ferrell spent a decent portion of the play engaging with the audience, asking if there were any actual Texans in the audience; there were. When asked what part of Texas they were from, one replied “Austin.” Without missing a beat, Mr. Ferrell said “Austin. Great cocaine back in the 80s.” All of these things, all of the negative aspects of George W. Bush’s life have been swept under the rug and are not available for comment as of 1980, when “Dad” became the Vice President.
Underneath the goofy exterior of G8 Lampoons and remembrances of Cabinets past, there is anger. Will Ferrell and Adam McKay, Mr. Ferrell’s long time collaborator, are angry at the past eight years. So is the audience. The biggest bouts of applause were for any time they were reminded of the simple fact that this man is no longer behind the helm of the ship of state. “That Tiger Woods guy,” as Bush put it, now is, “and his speeches are like Shakespeare dipped in sex.”
But along with the applause, there was one patch of silence. Launching himself into a monologue on whether or not he ever cries, Mr. Ferrell’s Bush states that of course he does. The deaths of all military personnel and Iraqi citizens are on his watch. And that it’s our job to remember them. What follows is opposite of anything Mr. Ferrell was most likely taught about comedy: he requests a moment of silence. And somehow, the audience obliges. No one screams “You’re my boy, Blue” or “I’m trapped in a glass cage of emotion.” The audience is silent.
Then the phone rings.
It’s Michael D. Brown, or as the world better remembers him, Brownie.
What follows is a scathing commentary on the disastrous second term of the Bush administration, capped off by a bout of nickname giving. The house lights went up and people were invited to shout out their names and occupations. I volunteered mine, adding that I was a political science major as the last student, an eighth grader, now went by the name of “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret.”
“Political Science. Hmm… I’m gonna call you ‘Studies Useless Material.’”
The audience laughed. I partially agreed.
“And good luck in this job market.”
Mr. Ferrell’s Bush would later take credit for destroying the world’s economy.
“You’re Welcome America” ends its limited engagement run on March 15, but fret not if you find yourself unable to find a ticket for the next week. HBO is one of the main producers. Saturday, March 14, the performance will be broadcast live at 9 pm. Knowing HBO, it will then be rerun from here to eternity. And then everyone will have a chance to be shocked and awed at the image of a presidential penis.