Like the politics they use for their comedic inspiration, satirists never sleep. And D.C.-based comedy troupe Gross National Product is no exception. With a steady stream of news worth mocking, the group was still tweaking its latest show hours before the first performance earlier this month.
When former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin (R) recently released a video statement using the term “blood libel,” GNP’s UnArtistic Director John Simmons rewrote part of the new show, “The Sound of Palin,” to include a reference to her latest controversial statement. Palin was widely criticized for using the term, historically used against Jews, to describe accusations that linked her political rhetoric to the assassination attempt against Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.).
For Simmons, who wrote the show with Christine Thompson and John Moody, the statement was yet another wonderful Palin “witt-less-cism” to finish his satire. “We’re writing it up to the last minute,” Simmons said. “When things change in the news, we change the revue as well. It’s funny because it’s topical.”
Born out of GNP’s 2010 show, “Don’t Tea on Me,” the new “Sound of Palin” grafts many of Palin’s famous gaffes onto Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The Sound of Music.”
“It has been changing, which is the great nature of this type of art,” Atlas Performing Arts Center Communications Director Jen DeMayo said.
The production follows Palin from her start as mayor of Wasilla to becoming a reality star and then into a projected future where she wins the presidency in 2012.
“She’s a buffoon. She has become a cartoon,” Simmons said. “There’s a darkness to it, but that’s what satire is supposed to be. It exposes the hypocrisy.”
Split into two parts and bookending the 90-minute show, the title sketch chronicles Palin’s life. Throughout, the show’s cast sings and dances through politicized parodies of the classic musical’s many popular songs, with new titles such as “The Hill Is Alive” and “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Sarah.” While the original Maria sings of raindrops on roses, Palin’s “Favorite Things” include “shiny new rifles and shooting a bear” and “clubbing a seal on a warm day in spring.”
“It’s challenging, but it’s very fun to do this music,” Simmons said. “I don’t think I’ll ever be able to see ‘The Sound of Music’ again.”
The show’s small cast plays a range of characters, including Palin’s daughters Piper and Bristol, who leaves to join “Dancing with the Stars.” Palin’s husband, Todd, spends the entire show mumbling and fishing. Simmons plays conservative politician Karl Rove, the eventual villain of the show. He sings “Climbs Every Pollster” when Palin is elected president thanks to his new Chamber of Commerce donations.
The show will also feature the audience-inspired improvisation for which the troupe is famous and several other politically inspired sketches. In addition to welcoming the new freshman class to Congress, the actors will poke fun at President Barack Obama and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), as well as creationism, the deficit and the filibuster.
“The story now is not Obama, it’s the new Congress,” Simmons said. “Our job is to get them to laugh, and Congress is a laughable thing.”
In addition to Simmons and Thompson, comedians Nora Achrati, Colby Codding and Hyla Matthews act in the show.
“The Sound of Palin” is the group’s first show with a female title character. As more women continue to enter politics, GNP has responded by changing the composition of its troupe. “It’s a new, exciting group of people,” Simmons said.
“We’ve never done three women and two men before.”
GNP has been parodying politicians in some form since the early 1980s. In addition to performances in 45 states, GNP has presented longer runs in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego. The group traditionally begins new shows in Washington, D.C.
“It’s theater mixed with parodies and fast-paced political and social commentary,” Simmons said. “We’re the delta force of comedy.”
“The Sound of Palin” will be performed at the Atlas Performing Arts Center (1333 H St. NE) on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Feb. 18.