‘POTUS’ reviews: New Broadway farce a ‘whizbang’ comedy with impressive cast

In politics – and Broadway’s Tony Awards season – timing is everything. New play “POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive,” knows that extraordinarily well, not only because of its finely-tuned farce, but also because it enters the 2021-2022 Tony season just under the eligibility wire. “POTUS” opened at the Shubert Theatre on April 27 for a limited engagement.

Written by Selina Fillinger and directed by Broadway extraordinaire Susan Stroman, “POTUS” unfolds during a particularly tumultuous day for the President of the United States, as the women in his life – staff members, family, and all – try to get him back on course. The who’s-who ensemble stars Lilli Cooper, Lea DeLaria, Rachel Dratch, Julianne Hough, Suzy Nakamura, Julie White, and Vanessa Williams.

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“POTUS” earned mostly positive and mixed reviews from theatre critics. Helen Shaw (Vulture) calls the production a “whizbang comedy” with a “killer cast.” She compliments playwright Fillinger for doing “an excellent job of making tension and conflict possible even though the women rarely turn on each other” as well as crafting an “eerily familiar version of an American administration.” She notes that all of the actors are “strong” but she spotlights Rachel Dratch as “an entire circus in a Peter Pan collar” and Julie White as the “first among equals.” She also mentions the turntable set by Beowulf Boritt, which she calls “a great collaborator” in the comedy.

Jesse Green (New York Times) similarly compliments this “snappy and intermittently hilarious farce,” calling the show a “rough-and-tumble feminist comedy.” He has much praise for the performers, calling Vanessa Williams “sleek,” Julianne Hough “gleefully filthy,” and Lilli Cooper “winning,” emphasizing Rachel Dratch’s “repertoire of cringes and moues” and Lea DeLaria “having a ball.” Green applauds Stroman’s “prestissimo” direction, but he ultimately thinks the play’s satire “begins to dull” over the course of the evening.

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A late but strong entry in the Broadway season, “POTUS” may be able to break into a few of the Tony Awards races when nominations are announced on May 9. In a season with 12 new plays – many of them about weighty and timely issues – “POTUS” might seem a little too light since it is a comedy, even though it also has important things to say in between belly-laughs. In our current combined odds, “POTUS” ranks eighth in Best Play. With 21 plays and revivals eligible for the Best Director prize, five-time Tony-winner Stroman might not earn her 15th career nominations (it would be her fifth for directing, specifically).

While “POTUS” might make the case for an ensemble award at the Tonys, at the moment all seven actresses will have to compete against each other in the Featured Actress race. Two of those seven have bubbled up above the rest in our predictions: Rachel Dratch and Julie White, who rank eighth and ninth, respectively. Dratch has been earning much buzz for her delightfully high performance and is the kind of scene-stealer who Tony nominators often like to recognize for comedic turns. But Julie White can do no wrong with those nominators, either: she has three career nominations – most recently for the absurdist and hilarious “Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus” in 2019 – including a victory for “The Little Dog Laughed.” Since “POTUS” bowed so late, our users may not have caught up with the show yet, so we could be underestimating these and other contenders.

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Below the line, keep an eye on a surprise nomination for scenic designer Beowulf Boritt. He has three prior Tony bids, which includes a win for “Act One,” and the scene transitions in “POTUS” are a hilarious and thematic element of the storytelling.

PREDICT the 2022 Tony Awards nominees now through May 9

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