I've seen four Gridiron performances, starting in 2000, and this year's tops them all. The musical send up of Arkansas and national politicians and personalities by the Pulaski County Bar Association is spot on in hammering Gov. Mike Huckabee, vice president Dick Cheney, Laura Bush and state first lady Janet Huckabee, Mike Beebe and Asa Hutchinson, Wally Hall and Bill Valentine, county clerk Pat O'Brien's apparent finicky office dress policy, UA coach Houston Nutt and quarterback Mitch Mustain and plenty more.
This Gridiron, dubbed "In the Ring," has its traditional bookends, but it's inside where the meat is, and Jana Hendrix's flawless direction and choreography has the program sailing through its 80-minute running time. If there was one flaw, it seems as if the spoof of Patrick Henry Hays (Joe Kolb) to "Trouble in River City" from "The Music Man" was a little too fast-paced for the performers. But even that was a well-written sendup.
The setting is a boxing ring inside Alltel Arena, with "Just Say No. Little Rock" hanging above it. And in the ring, the newsmakers of the past year or so get blistered. Obviously, the Gridiron crew had a lot to work with, and they fire their shots at the Lonoke police office scandal, the ivory-billed woodpecker and Mike Huckabee's apparent penchant for flying on the public dole via the State Police plane or via jet paid for by his Virginia-based political action committee fund (where, in Virginia, laws of disclosure are far more lax than if it were based in Arkansas).
The Lonoke scandal involving Police Chief Jay Campbell and his wife gets the best treatment to the song "All That Jazz" (rewritten as "All That Trash") from "Chicago. Debbie Averitt Debi Arivett stars as the police chief's bawdy wife, and the entire skit skirts the edge of raunchiness. Arivett's range is terrific.
Not to be outdone in the vocal department, Kathryn Pryor takes the Kristen Chenowith tune "Popular" from "Wicked" in showing how Laura Bush might advice the state's first lady, Janet Huckabee (Janis Kovalscik).
Herb Rule is hilarious throughout in his ivory-billed woodpecker costume and his song "Peckers" (to the tune of "People") is a delight. Steve Giles may not look quite like Gov. Huckabee, but he nails him in his actions in the R. Kelly song "I Believe I Can Fly." Larry Crane does a dead-on impersonation of Mike Beebe, and he and Perry Young as Asa! square off in the ring to the Dean Martin-Nat King Cole tune "Open up the Dog House." Craig Wilson leads a cool congo line of "Mexicans" jumping the border fences in a riff of Harry Belafonte's "Jump in the Line." And the Houston Nutt-Mitch Mustain recruiting saga gets the Gridiron treatment playing it off as a seen from "Brokeback Mountain," with Tim Boozer capturing Nutt's mannerisms perfectly.
There wasn't a dull song in the bunch, and the skits and brought to a big finish with Hillary Clinton (Treeca Cotton) and Condi Rice (Marie-B Miller) battling it out in the main event, and the ensemble all around, Dick Cheney firing his shotgun wildly and the woodpecker being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The 60-person cast puts a rousing finish on the show by reprising the rumba of "Jump in the Line."
It's great fun. Tickets for the remaining shows (Thursday at 8, Friday and Saturday at 7 and 9 p.m.) are $30 though the Arkansas Repertory Theatre box office, 378-0405.