Since we are presently witnessing a surreal battle for the presidency of the United States, it should not be surprising to see a bizarre political campaign presented on a local stage.
But, while The Campaign Trail, a new musical from DVA Productions that is currently vying for votes at Trimble Tech High School, may be timely and not much stranger than what we see regularly in the Clinton-Trump election, it is often as hard to watch as the real thing.
This show, with a book by Sheran Keyton and music by Joe Rogers, tells the tale of the presidential run of Sen. Charlie Ray Martin (Roy Brooks) as the candidate for the Independence Party. Unfortunately, Martin dies during his run (an event that comes early in the show), after telling his daughter, Charlise (Keyton), that she must continue the campaign in his stead.
That does not sit well with Martin’s running mate, David Risinger (Dan Johnston), who feels he should have been the choice, given that Charlise’s only qualification for elected office is that she has been a lounge singer most of her life.
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Her opponent, the archly conservative Richard Farmer (Gary Payne), seems assured of election, but he is willing to go to any length to make sure of that. Meanwhile, Charlise bravely sallies on, stopping only to deliver a few tunes along the way.
This production, directed by Keyton and in collaboration with the Trimble Tech High School theater department and Theatre Arts Production School, misses its mark on almost every front. The score by the highly talented Rogers, which covers styles ranging from hip-hop to gospel-tinted ballads, is serviceable, but seldom exceptional. There are a few numbers that stand out, but since the show’s songs were not listed in the program, it is not possible to identify those rare moments.
There are some fine voices on display. Keyton has long been one of our best soulful belters, and she is matched by the excellent vocals provided by Martin campaign staff members played by Abel Baldazo and Crystal Williams. But there are also some numbers we could live without.
Brooks is a real, live Tarrant County commissioner, and it is extremely sporting of him to play along with this clever bit of stunt casting. But in addition to asking him to act, he is also called upon to sing on a stage he shares with a number of people who have been paid to do that sort of thing. It is not fair to him, and it is certainly not fair to the audience.
The script and characters are a collection of cliches and familiar gambits that are launched into the stratosphere of absurdity. Take, for example, the scene where Farmer is doing his own political dirty work in a public park while toting a gun.
All of these shortcomings are made worse by the show’s excessive running time of more than two and a half hours. Those high school auditorium seats are mighty tough to take for that long. Also, because of the large cast, technical problems with the sound that plagued the Saturday matinee seen for this review are likely to vex the remaining presentations.