Unlike Campfield, Stampfield delivers

Having been present at a very early rehearsal, I was excited to see how Casey Stampfield: The Musical would come together on stage.  The end result was hilarious and entertaining, while also conveying the shame and dismay that Tennessee politics have often brought to the citizens of this state. Indeed, one of the highlights of the musical, for me, was hearing Memory Strong sing, so beautifully, “The Dumbest Man of All” (“The Greatest Love of All”). After all, who hasn’t watched a late night show, The Daily Show perhaps, that was making fun of Tennessee and felt, deep in their heart, “The dumbest man of all is happening to Tennessee”?

The partnership between Vibe and Music City Theatre Company was brilliant: the space, perhaps unexpectedly, is a wonderful venue for small-cast productions. Further the preshow bar service and easy access to Church Street after the play makes Casey Stampfield a great way to begin an evening on the town.

So much has already been said about the show itself – it’s even profiled in our print edition coming soon – and the press has eaten it up. If you know anything about the show’s muse, Stacey Campfield, and his antics, you could probably guess it all. Stampfield plays out like a Campfield episode of “This is Your Life,” or a “Greatest Misses” album, as it were.

Playing off of Tennessee classics, songs like “Carrot Top” (“Rocky Top”) and “Senator from Knoxville” (“Chattanooga Choo-Choo”) reveal the depths to which this musical, unlike New York native Stampfield/Campfield, is rooted in Tennessee culture. This brings an authenticity to the satire that adds a great deal to the content. When we hear Casey sing, “I am not your average carrot top on Capitol Hill – I assure you I will never stop sponsoring ludicrous bills,” while dancing clownishly, it’s almost like watching Campfield’s soul with all the political theatre pulled back.

Chad Webb, who played the title role, absolutely captured the essence of so many rationality-defying Campfield moments, distilled that and put every ounce of it into his role. His ability to shift from expressions of childlike petulance to self-absorbed, overweening pride and certainty to blissful ignorance deliver a Stampfield that is both infuriating and engaging.

There is something odd – surreal even – about the fact that it takes theatre to pull back the curtain on what a politician’s actions really mean. When Casey bursts into a classroom brandishing a gun to demand, “Don’t say gay,” the absurdity of it seems over-the-top, until the character reminds us that our legislators in Tennessee have worked to ensure that you can carry a gun almost everywhere, while at the same time doing what they can to curb our other rights. Suddenly Campfield brandishing his gun with a mad grin is entirely appropriate, hilariously clownish, and deadly serious all at once.

If there were one thing I would want to see differently in the show, it would be the spoken interludes, which were often explanatory asides. The comedy shtick was great, but the heavy and “teacherly” tone with which comments about Casey’s career risk transporting the audience into another head space. It would seem desirable for these to be positioned as part of a frame story – perhaps someone telling a cautionary tale, in a format that would tie everything together more cleanly. This however would require a larger cast and space and is, on the whole, a minor issue.

So, yes, there are moments in the musical where the political commentary seems heavy handed: but remember that what you are watching isn’t a tool crafted to bash Senator Campfield. It’s Senator Campfield’s reality under the spotlight – which is really where he wants to be – and if that happens to show him in a poor light, whose fault is that? The writers didn’t get kicked out of a barbecue with the governor, or a UT game, or design a “starve the kids” bill. They just saw a man who did and put him on stage, and set his antics to music.

Tickets and information are available at http://mctc.ticketleap.com/. Casey Stampfield: The Musical will be performed at Vibe on:

Saturday June 28 - 7:30pm

Sunday June 29 - 2pm

Thursday July 3 - 7:30pm

Saturday July 5 - 7:30pm

Sunday July 6 - 2pm

Thursday July 10 - 7:30pm

Friday July 11 - 7:30pm

Saturday July 12 - 7:30pm 





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