Whoever named the revue “Charlotte Squawks: 12 Angry Hens” probably didn’t stop to think that chickens have no choppers. (Hence the phrase “scarce as hen’s teeth.”)
Luckily, that title proved not to be prophetic for the annual satirical show at Booth Playhouse. The song-and-dance-filled production took a while to sink its jaws into anything substantial. But when it bit down, it bit down hard.
The biggest change this year was in the laceration of Gov. Pat McCrory, who has moved from the show’s pet poodle to pet peeve. The 12th “Squawks” began with a cheerful snippet from a previous year, when he was sort of an unofficial mascot. Suddenly, the image of his face swirled down a toilet. By the end of the show, his reputation had joined it.
The Hens pecked mercilessly at his hapless handling of the HB2 issue, the I-77 toll lane fiasco, the mass cancellations of business deals and artistic performances. At the end of one song, a video placard read “You can’t spell PAThetic without Pat.”
All the political segments stung, from a Ted Cruz profile (“The Liar,” sung to “The Boxer”) and a depiction of Bernie Sanders as a cranky fantasist (“Mister Sanders,” done to “Mister Sandman”). Hillary Clinton worried that she was “Unpopular” (to the “Wicked” song “Popular”), while Donald Trump rapped self-approvingly in “Trumpbacker” (sung to “Rumpshaker”). That’s the difficulty of topicality: One of these four candidates was irrelevant before the show, and another will become marginal during the run.
The show started slowly Tuesday at Booth Playhouse. Video problems plagued the first fourth, apparently cutting short a newsy segment. The opening songs tackled too-easy targets: traffic on I-485, cellphone addiction, microbreweries and airlines that restrict frequent flier miles. “Helter Streetcar,” about the Gold Line’s troubles, went off the tracks quickly and stayed there.
The athletic segment was more celebratory than critical, paying a mildly wry tribute to the Panthers in “One Superbowl Run” and teasing not the Hornets but their Johnny-come-lately fans in “Buzz Changes Everything.”
But like a boxer who rested occasionally on the ropes before throwing a flurry of hard punches, the show came around in the second half to pummel Congress for its inability to obey the law (by refusing to consider a Supreme Court nominee) and the N.C. Legislature for passing a law that denied LGBT people their rights and cities the right to make decisions.
Host Mike Collins presided with his usual urbanity, though he had a crew of only 10. Kevin Harris, known for his rumbling bass voice and fondness for cross-dressing, shattered a femur helping his son lift weights and lies in a hospital. Producer-lyricist Brian Kahn, who also designs the show’s PowerPoint segments, stepped in gamely during a couple of skits.