MONMOUTH — “Of Thee I Sing,” the tuneful 1931 Gershwin musical being staged by Theatre at Monmouth, proves that political absurdity is both nonpartisan and timeless.

With nonstop zingers about presidential campaign shenanigans, this show delivers pure fun from beginning to end.

Dawn McAndrews, TAM’s producing artistic director, leads an outstanding cast to a landslide victory. And today, more than 80 years after its Broadway debut, the music and lyrics of George and Ira Gershwin and the Pulitzer Prize-winning satire of a plot and script by George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind retain a remarkably sharp edge.

Luke Bartholomew (first season at TAM) and Michelle Seipel (third season) as President John P. Wintergreen and his true love, Mary Turner, are perfect in the play’s lead roles. Bartholomew was a hit as Speed in this summer’s production of “Two Gentlemen of Verona.” Seipel’s fine soprano voice blends beautifully with his on “Who Cares,” one of the show’s more familiar Gershwin songs.

Frank Omar, a seven-season TAM veteran with many area theatrical credits, is consistently hilarious in his role as vice presidential candidate Alexander Throttlebottom, who cheerfully navigates the campaign although he is ignored at every turn.

Jessica Swersey, who comes to TAM from Oklahoma and Texas for her first season, plays Diana Devereaux. She gives a fine comedic performance as the Southern belle who has her eye on the beauty queen title that would win marriage to Winterbottom and first lady status.

“Of Thee I Sing” is also notable for its clever mix of Gilbert and Sullivan style throughout the show. The nine black-robed justices of the Supreme Court bring a delightful bit of  G&S patter song to their vital role as arbiters of the usual climatic mix-up.

The plot is appropriately illogical, but undoubtedly inspired by politics of just about every campaign of many decades before 1931, and true to the folly found in every election since. The National Party has no policies on which Winterbottom can run, so it’s decided to woo voters with a platform of love.

Winterbottom falls in love with a campaign secretary who bakes irresistible corn muffins, and he turns down the beauty contest winner who was supposed to be his bride. That leads to inevitable complications that involve senatorial votes and Supreme Court judgments. Meanwhile, Throttlebottom weaves his oblivious way through the political turmoil and winds up as the key figure in the conclusion.

Jason Hersom does an excellent job in his role as the French ambassador, an important supporting role in the second act. Hersom gives the role a delicious twist with his on-target Parisian mannerisms. Director of communications at Kents Hill School, Hersom is in his third TAM season.

Fine contributions as senators are made by Kathleen L. Nation, veteran director/actor in area theater, and Ray Fletcher, who recently settled in Maine after 25 years in the United Kingdom. Alex Pagels does a good job with his role as newspaper mogul Matt Fulton.

McAndrews directs “Of Thee I Sing” with few variations from the Depression era dialogue, yet every line rings true to current affairs. The comedy and the music are as fresh as ever.

The large cast shines in each of the several ensemble numbers, with the catchy title song reprised several times. At the end of the show, audience members could be heard singing “Of Thee I Sing, Baby” right up the aisles and out of the theater.

Another of the familiar Gershwin songs that’s central to the plot is “Love Is Sweeping the Country.” That number features fine vocals and tap dancing by Ned Donovan and Amy Elizabeth Perkins.

Among the other songs are “Who Is the Lucky Girl To Be?,” “The Dimple On My Knee,” “Because, Because,” “Hello, Good Morning,” “Jilted” and “We’ll Impeach Him.”

Remaing shows

WHAT: “Of Thee I Sing”

WHO: Theater at Monmouth

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 27-29, and 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 29-30.

WHERE: Cumston Hall, Monmouth

TICKETS: Call 933-9999 or visit theateratmonmouth.org


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