Spoofing The Spy Thriller


Whether you hail Edward Snowdon as a hero or condemn him as a traitor, the Snowdon case has brought renewed attention to the role of spies in international politics. Now comes Leonard Lehrman and Joel Shatzky’s left-wing cabaret show, “Superspy!: The S-e-c-r-e-t Musical,” a spoof of Cold War espionage thrillers. Lehrman, the composer, will be at the piano as he and his wife, Helene Williams, play all the characters in the show. Featuring songs like “The SDI Waltz,” a reference to the Strategic Defense Initiative, the show runs for three performances over the next two weeks, beginning this Friday, at the Medicine Show Theatre in Midtown.

Directed by Brian O’Connor, “Superspy” is the tale of a mad scientist whose creation was inspired by the German-accentd professors Sid Caesar played on his seminal 1950s TV series “Your Show of Shows.” The scientist comes to the nation’s capital to present his invention for a “bliss pill” that will cause nothing but feelings of love. But soon he falls prey to self-serving politicians, a bumbling master spy, and a femme fatale — all of whom attempt to manipulate the situation to their own ends. By show’s end, the characters learn that honesty is the best policy — both in foreign affairs and with each other.

Lehrman and Shatzky, the lyricist, met in the late 1980s at a benefit for Jewish Currents, a radical political magazine. They premiered “Superspy” in upstate Ithaca in 1988, and have presented it in different versions ever since. Lehrman has composed 10 musical works, including the completion of “Idiots First,” the opera Marc Blitzstein was working on when he died, and “We Are Innocent,” based on the letters of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. Shatzky has penned more than two dozen plays, including “The Day They Traded Seaver,” about a Bronx Jewish shop owner haunted by memories of the Holocaust.

In an interview, Lehrman told The Jewish Week that some of his characters “are still fighting the Cold War, insofar as they are still looking for enemies to demonize. They’re also still looking for panaceas, be it a missile defense that science has demonstrated won’t work, or a costly war to keep out immigrants, which also won’t work.” The musical champions liberal politics, especially when they oppose surveillance and other governmental measures that Lehrman and Shatzky view as threats to our liberty.

Lehrman said an important moral of the show is expressed by the final song, called “Upbeat Ending,” in which the characters warn that “Even politicians can be made to see the light/But don’t let ’em out of sight/Just because they say they might/Give the left what’s always given to the right!”

“Superspy” runs at the Medicine Show Theatre, 549 W. 52nd St. Performances are Friday, Feb. 7 at 8 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 15 at 3 p.m., and Sunday, Feb. 23 at 3 p.m. For tickets, $15, call the box office at (212) 262-4216 or visit www.smarttix.com.