AIR FORCE ONE
at the Wrigleyville Cabaret
I hear that Andy Miller was pretty funny in the improv revue I Led the Pigeons to the Flag. And he may be amusing in the future. But at this point in time, in his first solo show, Air Force One, a musical/political satire he wrote for reasons he alone must know, Andy Miller is as hilarious as rain in Elmhurst.
Which is a shame. Our president-emperor's new clothes have never looked so invisible, yet political satire happens about as often as the contras fight real soldiers. It's not fair that Rap Master Ronnie '87 and Aaron Freeman have to do it all.
But for lamebrained, heavy-handed pseudosatire, you can't find less wit in any 40 minutes than there is in the sloppy, sophomoric Air Force One. It might have been otherwise. Miller describes his approach as that of a man "born too late to be a hippie and who's too left to be a yuppie." If he had explored that kind of caught-in-the-cross-fire ambiguity, he might have gotten beyond scattershot joke-mongering.
Instead, the 11 increasingly pointless songs (they'll change, we're warned, with the "political climate"--how's that for conviction!) go after "Nance and Raw 'n' Old," who are "lyin' for the red, white, and blue." Or Miller dons nerdy glasses to mock George Bush (seems it rhymes with "tush"). He's as subtle as spray paint; it's enough to make you sympathize with his victims. Miller even dons a Carmen Miranda hat to perpetrate a tired and misogynist ditty about how Nancy will run in '88 so Ron can make a comeback. The hat's a lot livelier than the lyrics.
Witless ballads miss easy targets. There's the one about a horny Marine ("I got my kissin' and I got my huggin' / All for just a little embassy buggin'"), and also the sidesplitting "I'm like Gary Hart but I'm not married." And there's a talking blues about the perils of the single life ("no love without a glove"), with its callous reference to "a man on the diet plan" (an ugly and unoriginal pun). And a punk rant against advertising, a subject that Miller, hideous in a punk fright wig, thinks he can devastate by howling into his microphone about "American Bland for the disintegrating American taste" and "Jesus pieces from Reese's." (Take that, J. Walter Thompson!) About as far from Tom Lehrer's precise punctures as wit can sink, the boring boogie "We Got Bombs" in seconds degenerates into just one more anti-Rambo romp.
Then there's "W's," a song written in the form of questions that nobody could make out; it's rivaled by "The Fish," which takes up smoking and the eating of toxic fish and bizarrely ends "Smoke the fish and eat the butts"--a lot of sunken jaws followed this one. The meanest is "Toyland," a howler about teenage suicide ("premature evacuation"). The one promising song--about Ollie North ("the American version of a terrorist")--foundered when Miller forgot his cue and had to fill a stanza with nonsense syllables. But it was just as well; I was getting tired of hearing "North" rhyme with "forth."
With its groaner puns, atrocious versification (someone count the beats for this guy!), and synthesizer monotony, Miller's material is so exasperatingly dumb you can't get a fix on his talent. He does have a potentially funny, Belushi-like rubber face, and a pleasant baritone; what he needs is the nerve to go beyond the obvious choice, to maybe invent some quirky characters embodying absurdities that now he only glances at with a very dull sword. At this point, too much in Air Force One is laid on with a trowel--there's nothing resembling irony or mock sympathy. Air Force One feels like a vanity show dashed off on a bet. Everybody lost.