Millions more will see the show live from New York on Saturday night – on HBO – and be the deciders of whether his performance is worth standing up and cheering.
For eight weeks, Ferrell has been packing them in at The Cort Theater, offering a malaprop-filled soliloquy as the 43rd president, who’s still on the skewer nearly two months after leaving office. Ferrell’s Broadway Bush, much like his “Saturday Night Live” Bush, is a language-mangling, clueless bumbler who botches the economy, the Hurricane Katrina response -- and calls his successor “the Tiger Woods guy.”
There also are moments of sheer outrageousness – including a giant photo projection of what purports to be the ex-president’s, ahem, manhood.
But as in his movies, Ferrell’s comedy generally is more absurd and silly than cruel. His Dubya is a dim and bawdy man-child unhindered by self-doubt, but not intrinsically bad. Ferrell even lets the odd moment of pathos creep in, most poignantly when his character mourns those killed in the Iraq War.
By employing his considerable standup skills and occasionally going beyond cheap gags (and there are plenty of good ones), Ferrell and his frequent collaborator Adam McKay manage to stretch the material far beyond an “SNL” sketch.
Ferrell has some other help during the 80-minute show: his brother, Patrick, plays a silent, break-dancing Secret Service agent. The showstopper, though, comes in the form of Pia Glenn whose smoking-hot Condoleeza Rice engages in a comically erotic mating dance with her commander in chief.
The near-sellout show, which has proven a boon to struggling Broadway, closes Sunday. Ferrell could keep this act going, but he’s stopping at just the right time. There’s a new boss in Washington, a new target for satire, even as Bush fades from the spotlight but not from the national psyche.
“It comes down to this,” Ferrell’s Bush says near at the end of the show. “Am I the worst president of all time?”
The New York audience on Thursday predictably responded with resounding shouts of “Yes!”
“I didn’t know any amateur historians were in the mezzanine,” he fired back.
Whether amateur historians around the country will be shouting “Yes!” at their TVs Saturday night – or giving Ferrell a standing ovation from their living rooms – remains to be seen. Their laughter, though, may be the most telling post-mortem of all on the Bush presidency.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992.