Friday, October 8, 2021

Parody genius: Randy Rainbow brings his Pink Glasses Tour to the Palladium

Satirist appeared live to an almost full Palladium.

 At the top of full-canvas political song parodies sits Randy Rainbow, who came to the Palladium Thursday night with a four-piece band behind him to accompany his singing. There were intervening monologues displaying  his pinpoint comic timing, and of course costume changes involving glittering suits and extravagant feather boas.There were also plenty of excerpts of his immense video archive, a YouTube sensation since 2016.

The date is significant, of course, because that was the year the apparently unlikely candidacy of Donald Trump took off, swaggered through the Republican primaries, and was crowned with his stunning election to the U.S. presidency. Rainbow had already acquired a niche in celebrity-linked video sketch comedy, which he recapped in the autobiographical part of his show here. But Trump unleashed from him a flood of inspired original parody versions of tunes mostly from the Broadway stage. Rainbow's time had come.

Like many of us, he was clearly relieved by Trump's failure to win a second term. It's no surprise that his Pink Glasses Tour show is largely retrospective, however. The Rainbow archive of Trump administration mockery is rich and part of our cultural history now. Furthermore, as Rainbow's version of "The Trolley Song" indicates, there's a host of Trump Republicans still creepily carrying the banner forward.

While it was understandable that clever Trump lip-syncer Sarah Cooper gave up her routine this year, the fuller scope of Rainbow's satire has had staying power, as the Palladium show demonstrated. His fans will no doubt look forward to updates of his sly, winsome, expertly detailed commentary. 

Perhaps a song will address President Biden's habit of romancing the calendar: setting a Fourth of July goal for 70 percent US Covid-19 vaccinations (unrealistic when it was set and failed) and a 9/11 20th anniversary commemoration by withdrawing our troops from Afghanistan (moved up to Aug. 31, stranding many, in a bungled compromise with the Trump-Taliban deadline). There will be new material, we can be sure, not all of it centered on Republican power plays and "alternative facts."

Rainbow's security about his brand has led to frank merchandising — pink glasses and a forthcoming memoir, naughtily titled "Playing With Myself" —  as well as an offhand acknowledgment of mistakes. He entered his opening song at odds with the band, ad-libbed "I'll find the key later," then joined forces with the quartet long before the finish.  

Later, he showcased his premature infatuation with Andrew Cuomo, then governor of New York, with a love song that the tour presentation of it crumbles on-screen. He was not alone in admiring Cuomo's superficial leadership during the pandemic's first year before all the governor's predatory behavior came to light. "That one came back to bite me," he said, adding a body part to his rueful admission.

Rainbow talked naughty, as we knew he would, and his lyrics were more unexpurgated in person than on the screen, whenever they were shown. They could be better understood when onstage delivery was doubled that way, thankfully. The amplification was intense when he was singing, and his lyrics-writing skills, explicitly admired by Stephen Sondheim among other experts, deserved more clarity than they often got Thursday evening.

The comedian affected genuine surprise at getting such a warm reception in central Indiana. But no dig at the Former Guy and his adherents went unappreciated here. The chief Hoosier enabler, Mike Pence, was described as the Dance Captain of the Covid-19 Task Force and otherwise skewered as a secret Grinder visitor. The ambitious Pence's subsequent shrugging off of the mortal danger he faced on January 6 might well be the target for a future Rainbow song.

My admiration for Rainbow has a personal component, which I have saved mentioning till the end of this review. For many years, going back to (speaking of Pence) the  2015 RFRA controversy, I have put up on my blog (jayharveyupstage.blogspot.com) about 200 low-tech song parodies linked to Facebook and occasionally YouTube. My maiden voyage was a parody of "Gary, Indiana" from "The Music Man." It did pretty well for a plain a cappella video unassisted by any technical magic. 

But I should say that if Randy Rainbow is the big leagues in this field — say, the New York Yankees of the early 1950s — I'm some distance below the minor leagues. Call it the "bush league" or even the shrub league. I've been attracted by the availability of karaoke versions of popular songs and my fondness for mimicking the rhyme schemes and text structures of the originals as I vent about political and cultural matters. I've surprised myself by how many pop songs, from rock to show tunes to the Great American Songbook, I'm familiar with. I get a charge out of doing these as a writer; the performance aspect is mediocre to worse. I could have improved some of them, discarded others. But there they are.

So it was a pleasure to be in the presence of a full-spectrum master of the genre Thursday night.





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