News got you nervous? Quaking over coronavirus? Morose about the stock market? Fed up with the Fed? Sick of the swamp? And yet, do you fear if you take your mind off it all for a second, things might get even worse?
Hexagon has the happy solution: laugh your troubles away. Come chuckle for a good cause at the foibles of feeble government, the horrors of the White House, tweeting terror, calamitous campaigning, and manipulative media. In an era when it’s hard to discern satire from reality, there’s one sure sign: if it’s set to music, it’s satire.
Hexagon is an original satirical musical comedy revue about Washington; it’s written, produced and performed entirely by DC-area volunteers. It was founded in 1955 by a group of young Washingtonians, led by an alumnus of the Princeton Triangle Club, which has produced original musical comedy for more than 125 years. At the time, Princeton, and hence the Triangle Club, did not admit women, but these intrepid impresarios thought that wasn’t fair, so they invited the opposite sex, doubled the triangle, and Hexagon was born. Over the years, they have included some of the most notable names in Washington, including Tom Lehrer, Sam Donaldson, Chris Van Hollen, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Janet Reno. Previous shows have had titles such as 20,000 Leaks Under D.C., Oaf of Office, and Tweet Land of Liberty.
Fast-forward to today, and Hexagon is celebrating its 65th year, making it one of the area’s longest-running community theater groups. They don’t do established shows that premiered on Broadway or the West End; instead, they present a cornucopia of songs, dances, comic sketches, punctuated with “Newsbreaks” presented by local media celebrities. While most years they produce an original musical revue with an overarching theme, on anniversary years, they like to give their audiences a selection of some favorite numbers from the past, often updated for current consumption.
This year’s One State Two State Red State Blue State is one of those anniversary collections. The numbers and sketches may be a little uneven, but given that every bit of it is home-grown, as they point out, “Broadway shows can take years to develop; we do this start-to-finish in five months!” The result is remarkable.
Highlights this year include a cute and clever song-and-dance number called “Covfefe,” along the lines of Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E,” where the letters in the word spell out appropriate sentiments like “collusion” and “obstruction.” Another is “Blah Blah Blah,” which skewers the pompous pundits of the Sunday political talk shows. “Congress Hears a Who” is a risky proposition. As the show’s title implies, there has to be a Dr. Seuss parody, and this one sends up the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. Seussian rhymes are devilishly hard to imitate correctly, but these come close, and the scene is funny enough that rhythmic flaws can be forgiven.
Act 1 closes with a pair of kick-lines, a tribute to the longstanding Princeton Triangle tradition of an all-male bevy of chorines doing precision high-kicks in fetching costumes. In the first part, some of the more venerable cast members come out with walking sticks to celebrate the company’s 65th. The geezers’ lament soon becomes a high-strutting dance number, complete with canes. Then the center flats turn around (simple but effective set by Dave Means) to reveal a real chorus line of leggy hoofers in tuxedo jackets and fringe (costumes by Zuri Blackmon and Eleanor Dicks). The precise execution of complex kicks (choreographed by Claudia Halasz and Abigail Kruger) boots the audience into intermission in a fine mood.
Act 2 opens with a trio of numbers poking exasperated fun at the DC area’s perennially hideous traffic. “L’Enfant Terrible” is a comic sketch positing the only possible reason for the insane arrangement of cross streets, diagonal avenues, and circles that make up the DC grid(lock): the planner was drunk. “Shirley Highway” pays tribute to the historical name of Highway 395, sung in counterpoint between the highway herself and the trucks that clog her. And “SIC Transit” may be the highlight of the show, a full-fledged oratorio starting with a “Hallelujah Chorus” because traffic is running smoothly, followed by a “Miserere” when rush hour kicks in.
The music that Douglas Maurer wrote is spot-on, with choruses, fugues, and recitatives, and the soaring harmonies of the full-cast choir handles it beautifully. They are ably conducted by Music Director Joe Sipzner, and well-supported by his five-piece orchestra.
Hexagon’s shows are not all music and dancing. There is ample sketch comedy, too, and much of this involves caricatures of the famous and infamous. Red State Blue State is graced with some fine impressionists, including a quartet of women sending up The Golden Girls, another lampooning former Presidents Carter, Clinton and W. Bush plus one actress portraying both Obamas, and a song celebrating Greta Thunberg. A number called “Big Hair” points out the predilection among Trump wives for strange, voluminous hairdos.
And stomping in and out among all these is the character without whom no present-day parody would be complete: The Donald, complete with ghastly wig, ill-fitting suit, endless red tie and bizarre vocal, facial and hand mannerisms, brought to all-too vivid life by Matt Ratz, who has clearly done his homework.
The show is punctuated by “Newsbreaks,” well-spun, well-worn jokes updated with local and topical references. The local media luminaries change at each show; on this occasion, it was Mike Murillo and Michelle Murillo, a real-life brother-and-sister news team from WTOP. Kudos to Director Jennifer Strand for keeping all of this running smoothly.
There was some first-night uncertainty over lines and dance positions; some scene changes took surprisingly long for a fairly simple set of rotating flats, and some missed light cues (lighting design by Christina Giles) left actors briefly in the dark. All these minor flaws will no doubt work themselves out during the run. And Matthew Datcher’s sound design, complete with assistance for the hearing-impaired, make the fast and complex lyrics that are the soul of parody crystal clear.
Not everything is perfect; one song, “Sex Scandal Boys of God,” that turns sexual assault by clergy into a boy-band number, is far cruder and more offensive than anything else in the show, proving that setting something to music does not necessarily make it satire or funny. Almost everything else was at least amusing.
And best of all, it’s all for a good cause! Every year, Hexagon chooses a charity to benefit from all their hard work. This year’s beneficiary is SMYAL (Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League), a group that helps lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and questioning (LGBTQ) youth to explore their identities in a welcoming and affirming environment.
So take a break from the bleak news of the day and come chuckle for a good cause. You deserve a laugh, and they deserve your support.
Running Time: Approximately two hours and 15 minutes, with a 15-minute intermission.