‘Rush’ captures ‘Spirit of Radio’ at Second City

By Luke Wilusz

Scathing political satire returned to the Second City stage last week as the company premiered their latest revue, “Rush Limbaugh! The Musical.” The company performed its final preview show at Second City’s e.t.c. stage, 1608 N. Wells St., on Feb. 2, before officially opening the show the following night.

The show follows talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh’s rise from obscurity to fame and extrapolates what might happen with Limbaugh and the conservative movement as far ahead as 2014.

The show’s production team, who also wrote last year’s successful “Rod Blagojevich Superstar!,” wanted to do another political show, said producer Leonard Kelly.

“We were kind of talking about AIG maybe, or a Bernie Madoff show, and we kind of were going in that direction,” Kelly said. “And the guys even did partial work on a script and it just wasn’t connecting in the same way that the Blagojevich show did. I think we were just going around the room where I’m like, ‘You know, it’s because we don’t have a compelling central figure. I mean, if we had someone we all hated like Rush Limbaugh,’and then it was like, ‘Yep, that’s it!’”

Kelly, who also serves as the executive vice president of Second City, said that as of the show’s opening, he hadn’t received much comment on the show from the people it portrays, although he said Limbaugh did mention the show briefly.

“A reporter in Palm Beach called me,” Kelly said. “He had e-mailed Rush to ask him what he had thought of the show, and Rush said it was the first he had heard of it—this was a few weeks ago—and that commenting on that would be like commenting on an article in the Weekly World News. So I think Rush was just sort of minimizing our potential impact with the show, as is perfectly his right to do.”

While the show focuses mainly on major conservative figures such as Limbaugh, Ann Coulter and Karl Rove, the cast also took some shots at the left with its portrayal of Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barney Frank.

“It was obviously more smashing on the conservatives,” said Tony Lagona of Chicago. “But that was all right, you know, that was what it was meant to do. They threw in enough of the slamming on the other side to make it, you know, reasonable.”

Lagona saw the preview show on Feb. 2 and said he would probably see it again.

Sam Richardson, who played Roland Burris in “Rod Blagojevich Superstar!” last year, also attended the preview to show support to his Second City peers.

“I thought it was a great lampooning and lambasting of Rush Limbaugh,” Richardson said. “It was harsh on both sides of the argument, but a brilliant skewering.”

Kelly said the show’s writers pay attention to the news in order to update the script as they see necessary, drawing material directly from Limbaugh’s show.

“It’s the kind of script that keeps evolving,” Kelly said. “Because the minute Rush says something stupid about, say Haiti, we can include it in the show. And he’s been very kind to continue to say some stupid stuff for us.”

Kelly said the actors have no problems keeping up with these last-minute changes.

“The guys are nimble performers, which is why we’re able to hand them lines to insert in the show to keep it topical,” he said.

It’s not just last-minute script changes that the company had to adapt to quickly. Director Matt Hovde said the cast had been rehearsing for less than two weeks when the show opened.

“It’s so fun. And every day is so intense because there’s a lot of music, a lot of dancing, a lot of scene work, so we really have to work hard every day to get that thing ready,” Hovde said.

Kelly said he noticed reactionary messages on blogs before the show even began.

“One of the things the show talks about is the fact that there seems to be this need, in the sort of Rush Limbaugh camp, to always find hyperbole and exaggerate everything, as opposed to having any sort of reasoned conversation,” Kelly said. “And that’s exactly what we’re finding here. People haven’t even seen the show yet, they don’t know the content of the show, yet they’re saying that we’re horrible people for doing the show. Which is kind of the point of the show.”

“Rush Limbaugh! The Musical” runs Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. until March 24.