Underbelly Cowgate (Big Belly), Edinburgh
Ellie MacPherson is a new name to me but, from the moment she saunters onto the stage, dressed as Marilyn Monroe, to deliver the titular song, I’m sold. She has a cheery personality and and a grin radiant enough to light up even the dingy, malodorous setting of Big Belly – one of the Fringe’s less inviting venues. She’s accompanied by a three-piece band, all dressed like CIA goons, complete with dark glasses – a nice touch.
Happy Birthday, Mr President! is a mash up: part history lesson, part stand-up, part cabaret set – and the fact that all the pieces fit so perfectly together, is testament to MacPherson’s evident skills. In one hour, she skips merrily through the forty-five American presidents (thus far), lingering here and there on more interesting aspects of their personalities.
I’m surprised (and slightly embarrassed) to learn how many of them I’ve never even heard of and I’m amazed to learn that so many of them had… issues. A president who couldn’t read or write? How does that work? One who liked to swim naked every day. Erm, sure, why not? And one who took a little girl as his ward and married her just as soon as she was old enough? Ewww. The song McPherson chooses to illustrate this story has never sounded quite so disturbing.
It helps that MacPherson has a terrific voice and a genuinely thrilling vocal range. My initial doubts that she can comfortably cram all those disparate characters into one hour are quickly dispelled. This is a terrific show: absorbing, informative and often laugh-out-loud funny.
Catch it if you can.