Clad in a peroxide blonde wig, and a dazzling floor length gown, Ellie MacPherson arrives on stage with a sultry confidence, and, as the American Anthem drones on in the background, she launches into a flawless impersonation of Marylin Monroe singing Happy Birthday, Mr President! From here, MacPherson doesn’t miss a beat, as she delves into the lives and characters of all forty-five Presidents of the United States of America through a fast-paced blend of pop-song mashups and riotous trivia. Undeniably nerdy, this cabaret-cum-history lesson is an energetic and highly entertaining look into the human side of these proclaimed “great men” of history.
Comedian, actress, and amateur-historian, MacPherson brings a lifelong fascination, along with a self-proclaimed sexual longing, to the lesser-known facets of Presidential history. From ‘which man went from high school janitor to President of the United States in just 5 years’, to the unlikely nickname a certain President had for his knob, you’re sure to learn something from this genre-defying historical satirist. Perfectly matching pop-songs to presidents, MacPherson launches into a hearty rendition of Simply The Best, as George Washington’s face appears on screen, whilst a well-timed rap accompanies the appearance of Abraham Lincoln. Styled with hilariously fashioned alterations to the lyrics, from Britney Spears to Tina Turner and Radiohead, the music is packed full of dark punches, and delectable ironies. Managing to keep her timing whilst effortlessly blending in audience comments, the strength of MacPherson’s voice impressively carries this hour-long show.
No President would be equipped without their Secret Service though, and MacPherson is joined on stage by her extremely talented band members, William Shuler, Dominic LaMore, and Luis Jacome. Complete with suits and blackened sunglasses, the live band brings a musical flair that no tape-recording could achieve, as they impressively switch between a multitude of musical styles.
For her family members in the military, loving the USA means being prepared to die for it: MacPherson is less certain. In a powerful moment, which had the audience unexpectedly silenced, MacPherson questions the meaning of love and loyalty to a state full of paradoxes. Backed by the tensions of American history, and all of the Presidential men who did bad whilst doing good, MacPherson tunes into a timely discussion about belonging, nationhood and history. Never too serious, she then launches into Dolly Parton, whose greatness at least, she can be certain of.
Happy Birthday, Mr President! is performing at Underbelly, Cowgate – Big Belly, August 7th-15th, 17th-28th.
Image: Joe Loper, provided to The Student as a press image.