Things to Do

Why Arena Stage Is Making a Musical Out of Dave

The 1993 film about a presidential impersonator "has a big heart," the theater's executive director says.
Dave starred Kevin Kline as a presidential impersonator who winds up as president. Screenshot via YouTube.

Politics can seem like a mean-spirited farce these days, but Arena Stage is hoping to change that this summer with the world premiere of a musical adaptation of the 1993 movie Dave.

Based on the Oscar-nominated film starring Kevin Kline and Sigourney WeaverDave follows the eponymous nice-guy manager of a temp agency with a side gig impersonating the President (also played by Kline), who’s a much-less friendly figure. He’s hired by the Secret Service to act as a stand-in, but when the real President falls into a coma during an extramarital assignation, Dave is enlisted to keep the public in the dark by posing as the president full-time.

The rest of the film follow’s Dave using his goofy do-gooderness to overturn the ailing President’s poor decision-making, much to the humiliation of the conniving chief of staff. Hearts are warmed, political activism is redeemed, and Dave gets the girl. (Never mind the the Constitution being stretched beyond imagination.)

It’s an apt time for a feel-good show about decency in politics, says Arena Stage Artistic Director Molly Smith, and she expects the audience to draw parallels between the show and today’s political climate.

“Washington audiences are the smartest audiences in the country,” she says. “They understand nuance, they are able to grapple with complicated ideas, and because it’s such a political town, I think Dave will be catnip for many.”

It might strike as a bit too meta to run a show about an unqualified man who unexpectedly becomes President, but that’s the point, says Arena Stage’s executive director, Edgar Dobie. “Presidents are almost a daily presence in our lives.” he says, “Whether it’s dodging a motorcade or having it dominate the news cycle. We see, hear, touch, and are close to Congress and the White House.”

It also helps that Washington has a successful history as a testing ground for shows that eventually move to Broadway. Arena Stage debuted Dear Evan Hansen in 2015, which went on to clean up at last year’s Tony Awards. A musical adaptation of Mean Girls musical premiered at the National Theatre last year; a Broadway production opens in March.

The Dave musical is written by Thomas Meehan, who’s collected Tonys for his work on The Producers and Hairspray, and Nell Benjamin, who’s adapted other screen comedies like Mean Girls and Legally Blonde for musical theater. Tina Landau, currently directing SpongeBob SquarePants: The Broadway Musical, will helm the show. Casting has not been announced yet.

Is Washington, in an age of bitterness, ready for a feel-good Dave revival? Maybe, Dobie says. “Like all comedy, it’s got a story that has a big heart,” he says. “We’re all living in the same world.”

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Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She previously was the editorial assistant at Walter Magazine in Raleigh, North Carolina, and freelanced for PoPVille and DCist. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Adams Morgan.