By Ryan Leeds
If you missed it the first time around (and given the limited run, there is a good chance that you did), I implore you to grab tickets for Baghdaddy, the slick and clever roller-coaster musical that has fortunately re-opened Off-Broadway at the St. Luke’s Theatre where it’s bound to play a healthy, open-ended run.
Years ago, Producer Charlie Fink discovered a screenplay written by J.T. Allen. Fink commissioned the creative team, Marshall Pailet (music and book), and A.D. Penedo (lyrics and book) to write a show based on the screenplay. The result was Who‘s Your Baghdaddy? Or How I Started The Iraq War, which played for a short time in the fall of 2015 at the Actor’s Temple Theater on West 47th.. It received the coveted NY Times Critic’s Pick star and was justifiably lauded by other critics, including this reviewer.
Perhaps because it was too much text to fit onto marketing materials or because producers decided to shorten the name to make it more memorable, the title has been truncated to Baghdaddy. The show’s impact remains the same. It’s even more potent now than it originally was.
Baghdaddy, based on actual events, takes place between 2001-2004. George W. Bush is President. Weapons of mass destruction have been discovered in Iraq—or so the CIA has been told by “Curveball” (Joe Joseph), an Iraqi citizen seeking safety in Germany. He agrees to spill information to German officer Richart Becker (Brennan Calwell) if he is granted asylum. His false revelation unravels a complicated web of deception that ultimately leads to the Iraq War. CIA agents, Berry (Larisa Oleynik) and Jerry (Ethan Slater) aid in the misinformation which they, in turn, provide to their superior Tyler Nelson (Jason Collins).
Meanwhile, weapons expert Martin Bouchard (Bob D’Haene) has just published an online compendium containing dangerous information. The Man (Brandon Espinoza) and The Woman (Claire Nuemann) round out the cast to play multiple roles throughout the two-hour escapade. The action takes place in a church basement with each of the players confessing that they started the Iraq War. Flashbacks occur at the CIA Headquarters in Virginia, Frankfurt Airport, Baghdad and other locations.
The plot sounds complex and quite serious, and in fact, it is. The show’s current website makes no qualms about the severity of the Iraq war citing:
Over one million civilians have been killed or seriously wounded, and five million Iraqis have been displaced. Over 5,000 American and allied soldiers have died, tens of thousands have been seriously wounded, and hundreds of thousands of American servicemen and women suffer from Traumatic Brain Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
However, the creators handle the difficult aspects of the show with a great deal of respect and dignity. It would be impossible to tell the story without covering the tragedy of 9/11, but wisely, it is only a briefly mentioned. In addition, the producers have offered to donate $1 of the ticket cost to charities that support arts programs for veterans.
While the matters of this story are grave in nature, the show is unabashedly satirical. As smart satire often does, it makes the most unbearable circumstances bearable and gives us the opportunity to reflect on how absurd our ill-informed choices can be. (or were in this case). Even as the culture and political war continues to rage, there is solace to be had when we tune into Saturday Night Live each week to watch Alec Baldwin and Melissa McCarthy skewer the current presidential administration.
There is also a deep resonance with the depiction of “alternative facts” — a phrase that has become in vogue, but one that has existed long before Kelly Anne Conway’s face popped onto CNN.
Director Marshall Pailet has secured most of his 2015 cast, but the newcomers fit beautifully into the show. Misha Shields’ choreography is sharp and inventive, and musically, the show soars under Rona Siddiqui’s musical direction and Charlie Rosen’s orchestrations.
St. Luke’s Theatre
308 West 46th Street, NYC
Open Ended Run
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or on Facebook.