Ali Levin: Melania’s Day Off
The premise of the show is that the third Mrs. Trump needs a break from the rigors of being First Lady and decides that the Duplex would be the perfect place for her to be inconspicuous. Who would ever suspect she’d be hanging out in a gay bar in Greenwich Village? But, while she’s there, why not share with New Yorkers something about her life, and sing a few songs?
Melania is one of the most baffling figures in the Trump presidency, and that’s going some. What’s her story, really? Is she fully in league with the president—only seeming to be at odds with him sometimes because she’s highly introspective and uncomfortable with being in the public eye? Or is she a lonely, sad woman, stuck in a marriage she’s desperate to flee? Levin takes the second route. Her Melania refers to the president tersely as “A shell of a man I dare not speak of.”
There’s no dearth of Donald Trump impersonators, from Alec Baldwin to Stephen Colbert to Trevor Noah (in my opinion, the best of the bunch). But as far as Melania goes, Laura Benanti—another performer with fingers in cabaret—has pretty much cornered the market with her appearances on Colbert’s show. Levin’s take seems a little loopier than Benanti’s. She speaks in a high-pitched, frequently staccato voice, but her exclamations seem sapped of energy. “Great. Wow. Exciting,” she deadpans. She keeps her eyes open wide, and they dart about as if she were looking for an escape route.
The show mixes musical selections (mostly parodies of pop and show songs) with video clips (some of Levin in character and one of the real Melania, out in public) and improvised sequences in which she has the house lights turned up so that she can interact with the audience.
Melania’s Day Off is clearly a work in progress: Levin is still trying out fresh bits. At the show I saw, she introduced a new song, “Do I Really Care?,” which she co-wrote with her game musical director and pianist, Paulo C. Perez (whom Melania repeatedly refers to as “Pillow”). To say the show is uneven is an understatement. Some of the audience-participation bits go on too long and don’t really lead anywhere. And Levin should definitely reconsider a bit in which she leaves the stage as Melania and returns moments later in the guise of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen—a role she was clearly not born to play.
And yet, there are some better-polished and occasionally inspired moments. One of the cleverest musical numbers spoofs the famous Ike and Tina Turner live recording of “Proud Mary” (John Fogerty), substituting the refrain “FLOTUS in the White House” for “Rollin’ on the River.” (Melania starts the song “nice and normal” and then finishes it up “bizarre.”) It’s hilarious to see Mrs. Trump cut loose here with some jivey, athletic choreography. Plus, Levin suggests—in this number and others—that she has a strong singing voice. (Levin sometimes portrays Streisand, though not in this show.)
While there are laughs in the show, there is something edgy and even slightly disturbing in Levin’s portrayal. You find it in one of the video clips, in which Melania is seen stumbling around dazed in a dog park. But things become truly unsettling when, during one song, Melania takes a “private moment” in which she utters a primal scream to her beloved son, Barron, that sounds as though it had been lifted from The Trojan Women.
Melania’s Day Off may not be the most sophisticated political parody. It could benefit from the hand of a strong director. But Levin has got something going here. She seems to be attracting crowds—the performance I attended was packed. And this month she takes a break from the Duplex to give Melania a day off in Tel Aviv. She’ll be back in New York for additional performances in late spring or early summer. I find it a good sign that she is willing to keep updating, refining, and experimenting with her material. She may get a good run out of this.
Melania’s Day Off: A First Lady Variety Cabaret Show
The Duplex – Ongoing (most recent shows, March 23, 31)
About the Author
Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. He began writing reviews for BistroAwards.com in 2011. More recently he has contributed "Cabaret Setlist" articles about cabaret repertoire. Other reviews and articles have appeared in theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com, as well as in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival. He is currently literary manager for Broad Horizons Theatre Company.