Coming to The Capital Fringe Festival: ‘President Harding is a Rock Star’ by Andrew L. Baughman

Move over Obama and Romney: here comes someone cheesier!

Our 21st President Warren G. Harding was a hard-living, hard-loving rock star. He rode a rock star’s tide of fame into office, reaping the benefit of the American Women’s new right to vote. Then he gambled away White House china and cabinet positions, fathered an illegitimate child with a teenage mistress in the Oval Office, and died an early rock star’s death before completing his term. If he’s remembered today at all, it’s for being one of the most inconsequential presidents in U.S. History.

This summer, The Landless Theatre Company, DC’s rock-and-roll theatre company dedicated to all things wacky and fun, remounts the rock musical President Harding Is A Rock Star, created by Obie Award winning writer and musician Kyle Jarrow (A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant, Whisper House), and directed by Melissa Baughman (Diamond Dead, 2008 Best Musical Pick of the Fringe). The production was named a Washington Post Editor’s Pick in 2008, declaring that “Harding Wins The Zany Vote!”

So what’s this thing all about? The title pretty much says it all. President Harding returns in a glam-rock-concert-from-hell to woo back the American people and reclaim the legacy of his administration. It’s a raucous party celebrating a double-edged American Dream: that any man can become president, and that a president can fail as greatly as any man. It’s First Lady Flossie Harding’s show, too… she’s lurking in the wings, waiting to take on the biggest job in the country.

Kyle Jarrow Web image by Leah Felicity Budin.

Creator Kyle Jarrow on writing President Harding Is A Rock Star:

“I wrote President Harding Is A Rock Star back in 2003 — it was one of the very first plays of mine produced after graduating from college.  It was produced by a theater company called Les Freres Corbusier, at HERE Art Center, in an Off-Off Broadway production that was lucky enough to garner some press attention and get us a nice writeup in the New Yorker.

There were four things that inspired me to write this piece:

(1) I thought it’d be interesting to explore the ups and downs of fame by drawing a parallel between what it is to be a rockstar and what it is to be a president. After all, in a democracy like ours, the President is a sort of rockstar figure. I was reminded of this just the other day when a friend of mine told me she met Obama and screamed “like a little fangirl” (her exact words) when it happened.

(2) I was, and continue to be, fascinated by President Harding. What were the circumstances that got such an unqualified man elected? And what was the truth behind his mysterious death in office?

(3) I became interested in the parallels between George W. Bush and Warren G. Harding.  (I wrote this during the Bush Administration, after all). Both were charismatic and handsome men who were elected – at least in part – because they seemed like guys you’d want to have a beer with. And both, in my opinion, were utterly unfit to be president.

(4) At the time I wrote the show, I’d been seeing a lot of “serious” theater, by which I mean theater that seemed to take itself quite seriously. I wanted to write a show that wasn’t like that – a show with a free-wheeling frenetic energy, some fun rock tunes, and a sense of humor and irony about itself. Perhaps most of all, I wanted to write a show in which the President of the United States could snort cocaine.” (Visit Kyle online at

 Melissa Baughman on directing President Harding Is A Rock Star:

“Landless first produced this play during the three-ring circus known as the Obama/McCain election, so now is the perfect time to bring it back. It’s a darkly funny and loud rock show that embodies the wild, chaotic nature of elections and American politics. Harding himself represents questionable traits that we hate and/or admire in all presidents and candidates, which makes the show nonpartisan fun for all audience members. I should mention, this is not a show for kids (Harding enjoyed the same extra-curricular activities as Bill Clinton and Marion Barry, if you catch my drift).

My husband Andy is recreating his role as ‘Warren G. Harding,’ and it’s also sort of fun to kill him off every performance. We have a face-melting band and welcome a lot of talented newcomers to this new production, including Landless’ Mickey D. DaGuiso, rock veteran Dave Horch, Baltimore Rock Opera Society regular Jack Sossman, and the amazing NYC based actor-vocalist Justine Hall as ‘Mrs. Florence Harding.”

Justine Hall (Florence Harding).

In many ways, President Harding Is A Rock Star is just too weirdly fabulous for a conventional theatre venue, it’s going to be better than ever at Fringe in the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent. Come out and rock and sweat your balls off!”

Landless Artistic Director Andrew Baughman on playing “Warren G. Harding”:

“From what I have gleaned, Warren G. Harding was not insidious or even ill-intentioned; he was just an inept fool, and he surrounded himself with corrupt advisors. On the surface, he was charismatic and could play the part of President, but he was all icing and no cake.

I had blast re-imagining President Harding as a contemporary rock star. The process went something like this: he would have to look like a bloated, over-the-hill David Lee Roth; his instrument of choice would be the keytar; upon hitting the stage, he must immediately charm the audience with a sheer commitment to his own ridiculousness, they must love this nasty old coot like their own crazy drunk uncle, and in the end, they must cheer the wicked demise that he rightfully deserves. Let’s face it, we Americans love a villain!”

At Fort Fringe’s Baldacchino’s Gypsy Tent Bar – 607 New York Avenue, in Washington, DC:

Purchase tickets here by clicking on the following performances:

Jul 13th 8:15 PM
Jul 15th 2:45 PM
Jul 17th 7:00 PM
Jul 21st 1:15 PM
Jul 26th 5:45 PM
Jul 28th 7:15 PM

or purchase tickets here, at Fort Fringe – 607 New York Avenue, in Washington, DC, or call (866) 811-4111.

 More information at


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