by Beatrice Williams-Rude
The 94th annual Inner Circle dinner and lampoon show took place at the New York Hilton on Saturday. (The Inner Circle is a venerable political writers association.)
This year’s entry was titled “Shamilton,” a nod to the Broadway hit, Hamilton, whose creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda was very much in evidence, charmingly in a section of the video introducing the lampoon. The video consisted of short skits, snippets. One, concerning secrecy about the results of the Wyoming caucuses was already out of date, Bernie Sanders having been declared the winner hours before.
The thrust of the show was the hostility between Mayor Bill, “Hamilton” de Blasio (Rich Lamb) and Governor Cuomo as Burr, played by Polly Kreisman. Rand Paul was also played by a woman: Laura Nahmias.
This brings the Inner Circle full circle, from when women were not only not allowed to join the club, they couldn’t even sit with the men to watch the show. They were confined to the balcony. Even Dolly Schiff, publisher of the New York Post—started by Alexander Hamilton in 1801, a point made during this show—was not permitted to sit with the other publishers on the main floor, but was confined to the balcony with the “wives.”
One of the fun activities even before the show begins is studying the seating list. Who’s whose guest and why. John Catsimatidis (Gristedes supermarket chain owner) took three tables and among his guests was Ed Cox, Tricia Nixon’s husband. This raises the question of whether Catsimatidis is planning a run for mayor. Several years ago that was the buzz.
Now, he’s in the show, played by Michael Scholl, and provides the dénoument: dueling with pies. And yes, real pies in the face—above and beyond the call of duty!
The first act was titled “The Room Where It Happened” and arguably the high point was Gabe Pressman as Pope Francis singing “Spreadin’ my new style religion” to the tune of “Old Time Religion.” The second act was “Dueling Egos” and while we had the Pope in act one, we had Jesus in act two. Andrew Siff, a particularly gracious Inner Circle president, played Mike Bloomberg, who was considering running again because he was so bored. Mark Lieberman was particularly effective as Eliot Spitzer.
There was a too true to be funny duet between Hillary Clinton (Courtney Gross) and Bernie Sanders (Henry Goldman) about feeling the Bern. Every time Larry Seary stepped onstage he injected energy into the proceedings no matter how small his part. The heaviest lifting, of course, was by Rich Lamb and Polly Kreisman portraying the two principals.
There were several interesting trios. One with Obama (Jim Harney), McConnell (Eric Shawn) and Jesus (Bob Liff). The thrust was Jesus attempting to get the other two to get along. There was a tribute to Justice Scalia—sung to “Maria” by Ruth Bader Ginsburg (Carole Zimmer), Sonia Sotomayor (Irene Cornell), and Elena Kagan (Jennifer McLogan).
The director, Shelly Strickler, was heroic. Given the complexity of the offering and the fact that the performers were hardly members of Actors Equity, she pulled off a near-miracle.
The Inner Circle writers faced a problem unique to this political season: parodying what was already a parody. Thus they can be forgiven for getting ham-fisted and descending into R-rated language and references to body parts.
As the lampoon has evolved, so has the rebuttal. Initially the mayor made a speech, but handsome, charming Mayor John Lindsay changed that. He brought Florence Henderson and they did a soft-shoe and sang—special material—“John Is Always Wrong.” Subsequently he brought Chita Rivera and Josephine Premice.
So what could physically unprepossessing Abe Beam do to top that? He brought the cast of A Chorus Line starting a tradition that culminated with Mike Bloomberg arriving by “helicopter.” Mayor Mike, who couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket, allowed himself to be subjected to all manner of physical abuse and as he gamely took his lumps, irrespective of one’s views of his policies, one loved him, if only for the night.
Which brings us to April 9, 1916. Cars could not use the Hilton driveway because an army of protesters accusing de Blasio of breaking promises stood in the way, along with a sizable police presence.
The thrust of the mayor’s rebuttal had him seeking advice on how to handle various issues. There were myriad Pinteresque pauses, but, alas, they weren’t pregnant. Nothing substantive followed.
The segment with Steve Buscemi was a delight as was the one with the Upper East Side woman, one of the.01%, but de Blasio has used this before.
In both the show itself and the rebuttal, horses were front and center—referencing the mayor’s problems with the carriage industry and his shifting positions.
Throughout the mayor’s segment, he mouthed Bernie Sanders’ positions without attribution. Then this rebuttal descended into naked, unabashed hucksterism for Hillary, who then appeared onstage. The attempts at humor included an unfunny racial joke about why de Blasio was so slow in endorsing Hillary—he was on C-P time (colored people’s time) which then became “cautious politicians’ time.”
Then, as we were exhorted to attend the debate at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, we might have inferred that Mrs. Clinton was debating with herself—and given her ever-shifting positions this is a logical assumption. Her actual opponent, Bernie Sanders, was not mentioned by name, despite having just added Wyoming to his string of victories.
That very omission might be seen as proving Sanders’ point, that Hillary’s backers are from the moneyed class, those who can spend big bucks for tickets—an Inner Circle table can go for $15,000. No $27 donors here.
It should be noted that the money goes to the charities listed on the program, ranging from Doctors Without Borders to the NY Press Club, Stan Brooks Scholarship Fund.