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Politics on Stage: Some Like It Scandalous

Correction Appended

It’s easy to run for president, according to the musical comedy “Primary Urges.” To get the ball rolling, all you need to be is an unknown Member of Congress, add to your life a risqué blond to initiate a sex scandal, a conniving press secretary and a cockamamie idea like Medicare for cats.

The show, put on by City in a Swamp Productions, is a political satire about an unknown lawmaker who runs for president to gain popularity. Fictitious Florida Rep. Floyd Flotsam (played by Doug Smith) learns that he can climb to the top of the political ladder by promoting legislation like “MediKitty” and by having an illicit affair with instigator named Linda Louche (Rachael Goldman).

Along the way, Flotsam takes the advice of a sleazy public relations manager (Michael Bruno) who convinces the Congressman he can go from being “the least important Member of the most important Congress” to “the most important Member of the most important Congress,” simply by running for the presidential nomination.

Nicholas Zill, who wrote the play and its lyrics and produced the show, described his political satire as having “a little bit of a cynical view” about life in Congress. [IMGCAP(1)]

The musical follows Flotsam’s success in original songs like “No Experience Needed” and “Character Assassination,” until in the end — spoiler alert! — he is offered the vice presidential nomination by both Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R). He declines the offer because he thinks it is beneath his dignity to accept any executive position if it is not the presidency itself.

While “Primary Urges” makes references to the current presidential candidates and their campaigns, Zill said his show is different from other political satire productions, like Capitol Steps, because those musical performances are parodies.

“Here the music is all original,” Zill said.

“Primary Urges” is the second production by City in a Swamp, which is run by Zill and his wife, Karen. He said the company plans to update the play with more timely references to the 2008 presidential election as it unfolds.

The show is a weekend gig for much of the cast and crew, who spend their days as teachers in the Arlington, Va., public schools or pianists at Nordstrom in Montgomery Mall, among other careers. For some, it’s a family affair: Bruno and his wife, Mary Jean, have shed their real-life persona to become a savvy political consultant and a legislative aide in front of an audience that can include no more than 60 people. Other members of the cast include Marilyn Bennett and Michael Miyazaki.

Howard Bennett composed the music and is also the musical director for “Primary Urges.” He has written more than 1,500 melodies, some of which have been sung by Billie Holiday and Rosemary Clooney. Bennett and Zill have been collaborating since 1986.

A live band accompanies the actors and is situated behind the audience. Kirt Vener, an administrator at the National Cancer Institute, plays the clarinet; Barbara Twigg, a federal employee at the Department of Energy, plays the piano and Stan Ismart, who runs an antiques and collectibles business, is on drums.

“Primary Urges” has been playing at the Warehouse Theater in Chinatown since the beginning of October and will continue through Nov. 10. Performances take place at 8 p.m. every Friday and Saturday and tickets can be purchased for $25.

Correction: Nov. 2, 2007

The article incorrectly reported the price of tickets for the musical “Primary Urges.” Tickets cost $25.