Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.

Arena Stage
Review by Susan Berlin | Season Schedule

Jenny Ashman, Thomas Adrian Simpson,
Vishal Vaidya, Drew Gehling, Adam J. Levy,
Erin Quill, and Sherri L. Edelen

Photo by Margot Schulman
Dealing with politics in the real world can be exhausting and frustrating, meaning that Washington's Arena Stage has tapped into something important with its world premiere production of Dave, a high-spirited musical about an ordinary person who believes that government can actually help people.

The story originated as a 1993 movie starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver, but bookwriters Thomas Meehan (a three-time Tony Award winner), who died in 2017, and Nell Benjamin, also the lyricist, have updated it to the current era of presidential tweets, White House selfies, and former officials becoming acerbic television commentators—and women running for high office. Composer Tom Kitt (a Tony and Pulitzer Prize winner for Next to Normal) contributes rousing anthems and entertaining character numbers.

Director Tina Landau brings a sharp edge to the modern fable, while choreographer Sam Pinkleton fills the intimate Kreeger Theater stage with complex patterns for a small, energetic ensemble on Dane Laffrey's set, which centers on curved walls that shift position on turntables.

Dave Kovic (Drew Gehling) is a high school history teacher somewhere in the Washington area. He reveres Abraham Lincoln and insists that his students memorize the Gettysburg Address. He also happens to look almost exactly like President Bill Mitchell (Gehling again), which is how the underemployed Dave finds himself in the White House after Mitchell suffers a stroke under circumstances that must be kept out of the news.

Dave understands that impersonating the president is illegal, but Chief of Staff Bob Alexander (deliciously unctuous Douglas Sills) manages to convince him with some sophistry invoking Lincoln's name. However, Dave's toughest assignment is dealing with First Lady Ellen Mitchell (Mamie Parris), who's sick of her husband's duplicity (her first line is "Can't you die from a stroke like other men?") but realizes something about the man has changed.

Gehling convinces as both Dave, the starry-eyed idealist who gets a close look at the realities of politics, and pompous Bill Mitchell, and he and Parris develop a charming chemistry. Sills walks off with his every scene, including a soft shoe number backed by a chorus of Secret Service agents. Other standouts are Bryonha Marie Parham as the White House communications director and Josh Breckenridge as Dave's unflappable body man who answers all questions with "I couldn't say."

The show still can use some tinkering: the scene at a Washington Nationals baseball game doesn't add much, and Dave's nighttime visitation by presidential ghosts runs too long. That said, it's a sweet, optimistic show that takes place in a world where the ultimate moral is, "Your president should be willing to care more about you than about himself."

Arena Stage
July 18th - August 19th, 2018
Book by Thomas Meehan and Nell Benjamin
Music by Tom Kitt
Lyrics by Nell Benjamin
Based on the Warner Bros. Motion Picture "Dave" written by Gary Ross
Reporter, Ensemble: Jenny Ashman
Reporter, Harding, Ensemble: Jared Bradshaw
Duane Bolden: Josh Breckenridge
Reporter, Montana Jefferson, Ensemble: Dana Costello
Reporter, Harrison, Ensemble: Trista Dollison
Tour Guide, Mrs. Smit, Taft, Ensemble: Sherri L. Edelen
Randi Hagopian, Ensemble: Rachel Flynn
Murray Stein, Adams, Ensemble: Kevin R. Free
Dave Kovic, Bill Mitchell: Drew Gehling
Mr. Wheeler, Ensemble: Adam J. Levy
Susan Lee: Bryonha Marie Parham
Ellen Mitchell: Mamie Parris
Reporter, Hayes, Ensemble: Erin Quill
Gary Nance, Johnson, Ensemble: Jonathan Rayson
Reporter, Buchanan, Ensemble: Jamison Scott
Bob Alexander: Douglas Sills
Reporter, Ensemble: Thomas Adrian Simpson
Paul, Ensemble: Vishal Vaidya
Choreography by Sam Pinkleton
Directed by Tina Landau
Music Director: Rob Berman
Kreeger Theater, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, 1101 6th St. SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or