After the success of Mean Girls and Dear Evan Hansen, two shows that premiered in DC, our city now serves as a Petri dish for musicals before their big, splashy Broadway debut. The latest example is Arena Stage’s upcoming production of Dave, a world-premiere adaptation of the romantic political comedy starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver.
The premise is ingenious: Kline plays a dual role as the President, a stuffy Chief Executive in the HW Bush mold, and as a mild-mannered nobody named Dave who serves as the President’s lookalike. When the President falls ill, Dave becomes the President full-time since his handlers don’t want to hand over their power. But Dave sees potential in his newfound position, enacting a progressive agenda and falling for the First Lady (Weaver).
Like countless films before it, Dave is more of a “Washington” movie than a “DC” movie. Most of it takes place in the White House, in limos, and the halls of Congress. There is one intriguing scene, however, where DC finds its way into Washington. Dave wants to balance the budget, so he calls a cabinet meeting and invites his friend (Charles Grodin) who is a humble accountant. Slowly but surely, Dave eliminates enough government waste that he effectively balances the budget.
Now you don’t need to be an expert on the federal budget process to see why this scene is silly. Congress finalizes the budget, not the President. His only power is to sign or veto. Still, this scene is Capra-esque in its ability to insert folksy wisdom into the cynical trappings of political power. I have no idea whether the Dave musical will be any good, but if a song about the budget is a hit, the musical’s creators should be cautious. Arena’s Stage audience – and DC in general – can be a sucker for that kind of Washington fantasy.