Northern Sky Highlights Presidential History with ‘And If Elected’

During this year’s presidential campaign when the mud slinging often has included missiles of a more scatological nature, Northern Sky’s reprisal of their musical review And If Elected is a welcome relief, a veritable romp through the annals of American political history.

Appearing on the stage of the historic Gibraltar Town Hall in Fish Creek that has been festooned with stars and stripes banners for the occasion, Northern Sky veterans Jake Endres, Jeff Herbst, and Karen Mal present a town hall campaign stop for virtually every presidential race, beginning with that of George Washington.

Karen Mal returns to the stage with Northern Sky's "And If Elected." Photos by Len Villano.

Karen Mal returns to the stage with Northern Sky’s “And If Elected.” Photos by Len Villano.

The show was created by David Peterson with additional material provided by the late Fred Alley and current performer Herbst. On every presidential election year since 1992 the piece has been dusted off and remounted with tweaks to reflect the new season’s hopefuls, this fall Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

The fast-paced production includes a chronological survey of campaign songs sung by the talented trio in their patriotic attire. They accompany their unplugged performance with piano, stringed and percussive instruments, taking advantage of the lively acoustics in the hall.

A highlight was the performance of Jake Endres and Karen Mal recreating that of pianist Harry Truman and actress Lauren Bacall singing “I’m Just Wild About Harry.”

The era of political songs came to an end in 1976, concluding with those written for the campaigns of Gerald Ford and Billy Carter. After that point, we are told, hopefuls chose popular songs as their trademarks, occasionally attracting unwanted attention when the recording artist publicly issued cease and desist requests, not wanting to be associated with a candidate.

As enjoyable as the campaign ditties were, the anecdotes and jokes connected with the campaigners were equally entertaining. The vitriol associated with modern elections has a historical precedent, as insults, personal attacks, and dirty tricks abound in our political past. Presidential races are a messy business, and an easy target for comedy.

At one point in the show, the tone abruptly shifted as performer and contributor to the book Jeff Herbst stood on stage alone talking about his fourth-grade interest in presidential politics, his goal to become expert in that field’s trivia. His candor amused the audience, as he showed them the wastebasket his grandmother had given him for his boyhood room, a container decorated with presidential portraits. And he brought out decks of cards with pictures of and facts about presidents, and invited the audience to participate in an impromptu trivia contest.

Northern Sky veterans Jake Endres and Jeff Herbst star in the 2016 rendition of "And If Elected."

Northern Sky veterans Jake Endres and Jeff Herbst star in the 2016 rendition of “And If Elected.”

As the songs, stories, and jokes resumed, the performers continued to amuse the audience with their impressions of political figures, and their arrangements of campaign songs. When the high-energy musical review ended, listeners had been reminded of presidential information they may have forgotten, and learned new facts that were entertaining as well as enlightening.

A presidential election is certainly serious business, as we have seen in the past that a new president can alter the course of our nation’s future, sometimes with consequences that endure long after that elected official’s term in office. But at the same time political campaigns are often seasoned with hypocrisy, bad taste, and unsettling gaffs; the Mother Teresa-types of the world seldom run for political office. And when the mud (or worse) is slung, we can be outraged, or we can laugh.

The current Northern Sky production shows that the latter is more fun.

Northern Sky Theater’s And If Elected runs through Oct. 16 at the Gibraltar Town Hall in Fish Creek. For information and tickets, visit or call 920.854.6117.

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