- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2007


Critics often said former Prime Minister Tony Blair brought a touch of theater to Downing Street, but the tables have been turned, thanks to two musicals at the Edinburgh Fringe devoted to him.

Tony! The Blair Musical” and “Tony Blair — The Musical” both take an irreverent look at Mr. Blair’s 10 years in power barely six weeks after he stepped down and Gordon Brown took over the country’s top job.

The two shows examine the often tense relationship between the pair and feature a string of supporting characters, including President Bush and Mr. Blair’s wife, Cherie.

Tony Blair — The Musical” starts with the two as best friends, sharing what writer James Lark describes as “a pastiche of a Cole Porter love duet” in which Mr. Brown sings: “If you’re Butch Cassidy, then I’m your Sundance Kid.”

By the gory end, however, Mr. Brown and his supporters are literally stabbing Mr. Blair in the back as he becomes more dismissive of his finance minister and preoccupied with the war on terror.

The play uses the arrival of Mr. Bush — sporting a cowboy hat and singing a battle cry of a country-Western song accompanied by line-dancing soldiers — as the turning point in the two men’s relationship.

“What makes Blair an interesting character is him being a slightly tragic figure,” Mr. Lark says.

“I think he’s a man who does take everything personally and who didn’t want his whole political career being boiled down to the war in Iraq, which, fair or not, it has been.”

Critics have described Mr. Lark’s production as more serious-minded than its rival, “Tony! The Blair Musical,” which dwells less on political issues and is more interested in raucous portraits of the characters involved.

Highlights here include Mr. Blair, who was in a student band during his college years and often spoke of his love of pop music, taking the stage with a guitar at his 1997 election victory rally to perform for the assembled crowd.

Writer-director Chris Bush says Mr. Blair’s personality made him an ideal subject for a musical and adds that he could not imagine writing a show about Mr. Brown, a dour Scotsman,.

“I guess there’s a certain degree of striking while the iron is hot,” Chris Bush says.

“There’s a faint nostalgia for him, even if not for his politics — for his charisma and his charm, even if he’s a figure that people wish to vilify.”

The show is given an intriguing twist by the involvement of Ed Duncan Smith, student son of former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, who led the divided Tories against a strong Mr. Blair between 2001 and 2003.

Mr. Duncan Smith plays his father in the production, singing in a barbershop quartet of former Tory leaders. He also stars as Mr. Blair’s former spin doctor. Alastair Campbell.

Chris Bush says the elder Mr. Duncan Smith has been to see the play and offered his approval.

“We’re not out to vilify Tony Blair or anyone else,” the writer-director says.

“Everyone comes in for a certain degree of ridicule, but none of it is cruel or particularly aggressive. … I’m far more interested in making something entertaining.”

Both shows have received warm reviews from critics. Scotland’s Sunday Herald newspaper said they offer “instant nostalgia — back to the glory days of New Labour before that rather solemn interloper took over.”

Blair was always a showman, with a twinkle in his eye that suggested it was all a great big joke,” the review continued. “His mannerisms and rhetoric were made for comic opera.”

The Times added: “The fact that people keep making dramas about him is surely the best evidence that Tony Blair turned politics into showbusiness.”

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