Friday, February 6, 2009

You're Welcome America: A Final Night With George W. Bush

GRADE: B

By Will Ferrell. Directed by Adam McKay. At the Cort Theater. (CLOSED)

With the exception of USA Today (who loathed it), the New York TImes (who is shmeh about the whole thing) and Time Out (who found its satire too soft) reviewers are quite taken with You're Welcome America, where comedian/superstar Will Ferrell plays an indignant George W. Bush trying to justify his legacy to the audience of the Cort Theater. Is it an extended SNL sketch? Probably. Does that seem to matter to most of the reviewers? Not a bit.



New York Magazine A
(Scott Brown) The real triumph of You’re Welcome is that it really isn’t about Bush. It’s about us. The man onstage represents Dubya, but also another institution, the Dubya Impression—our only real ownership over a remote, diffident, and frightening presidency. We’re saying good-bye to both. The experience is bittersweet, but Ferrell and McKay clearly lean toward the bitter. There’s detectable pity here, albeit pickled in years of disgust, but no sympathy—not for Bush, who’s more or less beside the point, anyway, and certainly not for the electorate that made him possible. “So I got the job. Cool!” is how Dubya sums up the 2000 Florida recount, and we’re reminded that all of us—even those who voted against, campaigned against, and spent countless hours aerobically loathing Bush—bear a measure of responsibility. After Ferrell reminds us of Katrina, then reminds us that he has to remind us of Katrina, he praises the American attention span (“It’s great ’cause you can half-ass shit and it doesn’t matter”), and it becomes clear that we, not George, are the butt of the joke. Bush is just the stick they beat us with. You won’t have this impression to kick around anymore, the comics are saying. You’re on your own.

Newsday A
(Linda Winer) Ferrell is terrific - sly and subtle, even brave. And You're Welcome America. A Final Night With George W Bush has arrived right on time for both silly fun and smart summing-up of an epoch the country just voted overwhelmingly to change. Foolish comedy is deftly mixed with tough political satire in what is not, strictly speaking, a solo. The former president is dropped onstage in the arms of a pilot on a helicopter line. The Secret Service operative (the star's droll silent brother, Patrick Ferrell) has secret moves of his own. And Condoleezza Rice - in a deliciously cheesy, wordless seduction by dancer Pia Glenn - slithers in a disco fog and a very teeny red business suit. Bush calls her "my little Rice-a-Roni."

NY Daily News A
(Joe Dziemianowicz) Getting to see this comic whiz in the flesh is a big treat, and the fact that Ferrell has been able to squeeze so many fresh yuks from the beleaguered Bush legacy speaks to his always off-kilter, sometimes raunchy, imagination...a 90-minute laugh ride.

Associated Press A-
(Michael Kuchwara) Already feeling masochistically nostalgic for the misadventures of the previous presidential administration? You can relive those eight years — and more — in You're Welcome America. A Final Night With George W. Bush, Will Ferrell's merciless and often blisteringly funny raunch roast of the former chief executive who left the Oval Office less than three weeks ago.

Newsweek A-
(Jeremy McCarter) You might wonder why Ferrell's show is on Broadway, and why now. After all, it targets a man who's become a former president. ("Thank you, that's very kind of you," he says after cheers erupt at his first use of that phrase.) Plus, the Ferrell-as-Bush shtik is already as old as "strategery" and as near at hand as YouTube. Luckily it's hard to quibble while laughing as much as Ferrell makes you laugh. It doesn't work out to 80 minutes of unalloyed comedy—maybe 65—but who needs more justification than that?

Variety A-
(David Roony) Teaming with "Saturday Night Live" crony Adam McKay... Ferrell delivers what's basically an extended "SNL" political sketch grafted out of the easiest target in comedy. But, aside from the brilliant Tina Fey-as-Sarah Palin exceptions, it's the kind of incisive "SNL" sketch we haven't seen much of lately -- a fast-paced, well-sustained near-90 minutes that's consistently funny and invigoratingly rude.

Reuters A-
(Alexis Greene) Put simply, You're Welcome, America. A Final Night with George W. Bush, Ferrell's one-man roast of the 43rd president, is hilarious. Even if you are among the shrinking number who thinks Bush II was the apogee of American leadership, you're bound to chuckle at some point.

American Theatre Web B+
(Andy Probst) Frequently hilarious, consistently amusing... Suffice it to say that SNL-alum Ferrell, whose impersonations of the former president are known to most of the English-speaking world, has concocted a 90-minute roast that darts from subject to subject with ease, leaving almost no aspect of Bush's White House years or personal life unscathed

NY 1 B+
(Roma Torre) It's really little more than an extended sketch you might see on "Saturday Night Live." In a series of blackout scenes, we're treated to events in the former president's life – some familiar, some not. And just to be perfectly clear, as much as many in the audience might want to believe it's all true, there is a lot of fiction in this work. It is a comedy first and foremost, and Ferrell, who also wrote the piece, scores on almost every line. We've all known he could do a mean Bush imitation, but this performance goes further, capturing W's odd convolutions, his mangled syntax, his certitude, his religion, and hokey sense of humor. The only one in his family to "speak Texas," as he puts it, he refers to Barack Obama as "the Tiger Woods guy."

Talkin Broadway B+
(Matthew Murray) Be forewarned, both Democrats and Republicans: Enjoyment will only come if you accept the usual caricaturish clich├ęs before you take your seat. You’re Welcome America is, at its best and worst, a continuation of the gold-medal gimmickry that propelled Ferrell from his eerily acute impersonations of the 43rd Chief Executive on Saturday Night Live to an irreverent (and highly successful) film career. The broad strokes and populist posturing so typical of after-hours comedy are far more plentiful than penetrating psychological insight or pungent political punditry; if you want either, please look elsewhere. If, on the other hand, you find such Rose Garden-variety mocking sufficient for occupying 90 minutes, Ferrell’s skewering of The Decider is the sharpest and most succinct we’ve seen in... well, a long time. This is because of the vague but undeniable streak of affection coursing through both Ferrell’s portrayal and his script, which makes this show far more determined than most to fairly and accurately decimate its subject.

The New Yorker B+
(Unsigned) With the director Adam McKay, Ferrell has deftly fleshed out his “Saturday Night Live” impression into a refined comic character, able to sustain a full evening of yuks. And it’s a fine time to satirize our forty-third President; with Bush out of office, the laughter is angst-free, joyful in the knowledge that the only harm he can do now is to the Texas brush.

AM NY B+
(Matt Windman) Though Ferrell’s caricature will live on as a “Saturday Night Live” triumph, Broadway has provided an outlet where Ferrell can take this character beyond the confines of a five-minute sketch. It is a straightforward monologue brimming with brisk one-liners for those ready to take in some more anti-Bush humor.

TheaterMania B+
(David Finkle) Indeed, even those audience members who are not Ferrell's biggest fans (myself included) may nevertheless end up appreciating the enterprise on a deeper level -- as a masterful character study that accumulates power the longer Ferrell portrays "W" as the affable gladhander and backslapper he's always appeared to be. Smartly, Ferrell as taken an image of Bush that many Americans have indelibly etched in their currently spinning heads and expanded it into something grandly surreal and deeply frightening in its insistence on one man's impenetrable state of denial. What we see on the stage is a fellow totally and unshakably confident about his misguided and ultimately destructive leadership and decision-making. When the fictional Bush concludes the show by saying "You're Welcome America," he means it.

The Observer B
(John Helipern) The saving grace of the uneven show is the masterly cool of Mr. Ferrell’s stage debut. He effortlessly captures President Bush’s peculiar combo platter of simmering peevishness and faux Texan swagger. One of the show’s funniest moments has the young and incompetent George trapped down a mine shaft with his father. “Why are you the only one in the family who talks with a Texas accent?” Poppy protests. “It makes no sense!”

Bloomberg B
(Jeremy Gerard) Ferrell nails W’s swagger, the gulped consonants, the half- kidding, half-sneering half grin. Like the best parodists, he doesn’t constrain himself with slavish verisimilitude. Many laughs come from gestures some of us happily ascribe to the departed president, whether accurate or not... [but] as satire, You’re Welcome, America is toothless. What comes across as pointed and funny in 90 seconds on “Saturday Night Live” flops as a Bush-era postmortem. Ferrell ends the show by giving audience members funny nicknames. He’s way too needy of our approval to risk laughs that draw blood.

The Washington Post B
(Peter Marks) Few who've scrambled for their tickets to the Cort Theatre, where the 90-minute show opened last night, are going to remember the intermittent waning of inspired satire, or the moments when You're Welcome America re-re-recycles patented standup material. What they'll take away is the gleeful adolescent spirit of Ferrell, enlarging on the swaggering frat-boy caricature he developed for television and which he now turns into a full-fledged comic character.

North Jersey.com B
(Robert Feldberg) If you've seen Ferrell's jokey version of Bush over the years on "Saturday Night Live," you know what to expect, except that on- stage, things get a little raunchier. (There's a projection of what are said to be the ex-president's private parts.) Ferrell does a good imitation. He's taller than the former leader of the free world, but he captures the cocky walk, blandly clueless smile and aggressive ignorance. What he doesn't attempt to provide is a probing, distinctive examination of Bush's eight years. As is common on "SNL," the comedy is broad, and often a little silly, a lot more Jay Leno than Jon Stewart.

Backstage B
(David Sheward) Most of the material is pretty silly stuff along... third-grade lines. Ferrell even descends to body humor by flashing a photo of his genitals on a giant screen. But there are sparks of political insight along with the slapstick. Bush bombards us with facts and figures reflecting the ineptitude of his administration and then arrogantly defends each fumble, from the "Mission Accomplished" banner to the lame response to Hurricane Katrina. The basic concept of an unfettered Bush running off at the mouth is effective, and the star maintains the appropriate air of clueless entitlement. It seems a shame this is the only political commentary currently on Broadway and that there are few recent American plays or musicals directly dealing with the state of the union.

NY Post B
(Frank Scheck) the generally lowbrow humor of You're Welcome America. A Final Night with George W. Bush is hardly cutting-edge political satire. Basically a (nearly) solo extended sketch, it's theatrical comfort food for Broadway audiences who want to see one of their favorite comic actors live.

Guardian Online B-
(Alexis Soloski) The show is often amusing, though rarely hilarious and definitely not innovative. The audience, perhaps desperate for some post-traumatic levity, chuckled throughout. Ferrell earns laughs by referring to Obama as "that Tiger Woods guy" and embarking on an extended, surrealistic riff about training a legion of monkey soldiers. At the close Ferrell has Bush inquire, "Can you go to sleep at night, knowing the decisions you've made?" After a meditative pause, he replies, "I can, because I can sleep anywhere. I'm a really good sleeper." Applause rang out, suggesting we'll all sleep easier now that Bush has passed from the spotlight.


NYTimes B-
(Ben Brantley) You’re Welcome America dips into these pockets of darkness only long enough to suggest where Mr. Ferrell’s political sympathies lie. I suppose the show might provide some cathartic value to anti-Bushites who feel they never really got to snort goodbye to their departed commander in chief. But ultimately this production is less about the legacy of George W. Bush than it is about the comic persona that has been perfected by Will Ferrell. You’re Welcome America is a lot like Mr. Ferrell’s more middling movies, not quite on a level with “Blades of Glory” or “Talladega Nights.” Sometimes it’s really funny, and sometimes it sort of sags. I laughed, I yawned.

Village Voice C+
(Michael Feingold) Ferrell is often charming, sometimes funny, and extremely good at imitating Dubya. He has great audience rapport, and, at one or two points, he even comes within waving distance of what you might call satire. The trouble is the one you might expect from a TV personality: Dedicated to the image of Bush the man rather than the reality of Bush the president, the evening has the insubstantial quality of something taking place in two dimensions instead of three... Like Bush's doofus nice guy–ness, it's a glittering surface, from which the dreadful things that have happened to us can be smoothly sloughed off. The people who find it gratifying might easily, eight years ago, have found George W. Bush "presidential." Television has really destroyed Americans' ability to perceive reality.

Time Out NY C+
(Adam Feldman) Ferrell and his Saturday Night Live castmate Darrell Hammond cemented the images of Bush as a harmless bumbler and Al Gore as a peevish pedant—with disastrous results. Perhaps Ferrell’s new Broadway show, You’re Welcome America, is a form of penance for having helped unleash the dogs of war, among other beasties in the Bush menagerie. If so, it is a bit too little and a lot too late.

USA Today F
(Elysa Gardner) It's tough to say who should be more offended... the 43rd president's most ardent admirers or his most rigorous critics. The latter group is apt to suffer the most for the witless, pointless spectacle that opened Thursday at the Cort Theatre, courtesy of writer and star Will Ferrell. Ferrell, of course, lampooned Bush on Saturday Night Live before launching a successful film career.

NYMAG A 13; NYDN A 13; AP A- 12; V A- 12; NW A- 12; RE A- 12; TB B+ 11; NY1 B+ 11; ATW B+ 11; AMNY B+ 11; TM B+ 11; TNY B+ 11; TNYP B 10; WAPO B 10; NJ B 10; BS B 10; NYP B 10; NYT B- 9; GO B- 9; TONY C+ 8; VV C+ 8; USA F 1. TOTAL = 225 / 22 = 10.23 B

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