By Alexander Tsebelis
My first assignment as a theater critic came as a bit of a shock. Well, a huge shock. I was hoping to see a performance of “The Fantasticks,” go home, and type out a 600 word review. Through some complex machinations, however, I wound up at the 2012 premiere of “NEWSical: The Musical.” Like your favorite newspaper, “NEWSical” comes in different editions. This show, playing off-Broadway, is the “End of the World” Edition.
Of course the harbinger of doom first brought on stage is an ancient Mayan (whose theories are briefly explained and quickly halted–“too much exposition”). But the real premonition of end of the world, it seems, is ABC’s cancellation of the soaps “All My Children” and “One Life to Live.” As the producer kept insisting to the show’s guests, many of whom were soap stars, “Read the end of my bio in the playbill! It says ‘ABC BRING BACK ONE LIFE TO LIVE!'” My little experience with soap operas was only the first of many indicators that I was a little out of place at this event.
What exactly is “NEWSical,” though? According to the show’s press agent, it’s “the Daily Show” set to music. That’s giving it a lot more credit than I would, in terms of the show’s ability to actually convey news stories. But it is, at the very least, as funny as Stephen Colbert’s or Jon Stewart’s presentation of similar material.
At the crux of the show are the frequent and mostly spot-on celebrity impressions, some topical and some having little to do with the actual news. (Watch out for Joan Rivers as a Wal-Mart greeter and Celine Dion singing the Hokey Pokey.) The show even includes a parody of an ad you might see watching the news on television, a magnificent send-up of Sarah Mclaclan’s awful animal-abuse-related advertisements.
And then there was “Shanez.” As far as I can tell, most of the celebrities attending this function had no real relevance to the general populace (Orfeh, Royalty, and Kim Director were some of the stranger names I found myself scribbling in my notebook, trying to keep up with veterans from broadway.com and theater mania). Most of them seemed to know that. But Shanez, with her preening and posing for the cameras, seemed so insistent on her importance that I was almost inclined to believe her, until I was unable to find a single picture of her on Google Images.
That’s sort of how I felt, too. I have a semi-secure footing as a critic. But as a reporter at a press junket, I’m a little lost. So there I was, a fake reporter with a little Sony recorder, with my girlfriend pretending to be a photographer (the producer suggested she drop the camera and keep the hat), at a musical about fake newscasters, surrounded by fake celebrities. All-in-all, a completely surreal experience.
Alexander is a contributing writer. Email him at email@example.com.