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Satirical Stephen Harper is an entertaining romp

Ashley Botting and James Roussel take on dual roles in Stephen Harper: The Musical.

3 out of 4 stars

Stephen Harper! The Musical

  • Written and directed by Daniel and Steven Shehori
  • Music by Jay McCarrol
  • Starring Ashley Botting, Trevor Martin, Paul O'Sullivan and James Roussel
  • At Second City in Toronto

Canadian children are inspired to believe that anyone can grow up to become prime minister. No more encouraging a model can be found in Stephen Harper, the unexciting 22nd one.

Stephen Harper! The Musical, the succinct, tuneful romp currently playing to snickers at Second City, is of course satirical. The exclamation mark in the title puts a fine point on it, unnecessarily. The plot of this amusing little goody involves bumping up the sturdy-haired leader's dropping popularity by producing a flattering bio-musical on Broadway - Broadway, because Canadians seek American approval before embracing its own inventions, such as "Nickelback and insulin."

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One must laugh at the heroic efforts of the Prime Minister's strategists, who puff up the musical-within-a-musical's book with fantastical inaccuracies - that Harper had led the Riel Rebellion, and that he had defeated Carl Lewis in a sprint race. In comparison, go to the real-life Conservative Party website that lists "10 things you might not know about Prime Minister Stephen Harper." There, such hyper-revelatory tidbits as "he's a big curling fan" and "he loves cats" and "he's learning Spanish" are found.

(Don't you relish the thought of this stiff Sussex Drive guy yelling "hurry hard" or "here kitty, kitty, kitty" in a fiery Latin tongue?)

James Roussel straightly plays the titular role, as well as portraying the like-minded Broadway-actor version of Harper. As the production shifts back and forth from the Parliament Hill "war room" to the Broadway rehearsals, all four principals take on duel roles. The Second City's Ashley Botting, for example, is fun both as a fast-talking adviser and as a New Jersey-bred actress (who plays the pillow-hugging, dare-to-dream, 12-year-old Harper).

Paul O'Sullivan, as the emotional Broadway director, was well animated and highly enjoyable. Other highlights included a singing Abe Lincoln (Trevor Martin as Harper's top-hatted mentor) and a racy Muppet of President Obama - "once you go Barack, you never go back."

Musically, there's smooth urban R&B ( Coalition of the Chillin'), an outrageously politically incorrect showstopper ( Nothing Rhymes with Canada) and the Beatle-esque Me and My Peeps, inspired by Harper's performance of With a Little Help From My Friends at the National Arts Centre last year.

The thrust, dreamed up by the sibling comedy team the Shehori Brothers, is that Harper, a duller Al Gore, is well-meaning but uncomfortable as a performer. He isn't skewered too ruthlessly - no hair or sweater jokes - but the robotic leader deserved the well-placed zinger involving the musical being denied a federal arts grant.

And although there's half-hearted politics here - hello Axis of Liberal - Stephen Harper! The Musical is not policy-driven. It's a quick, entertaining production about a prime minister not given to entertain.

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Stephen Harper! The Musical runs until Sunday.

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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