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Blagojevich is still everywhere – and some can smile about it

Illinois' ex-governor, the subject of a hit musical, is relentlessly seeking the limelight. Will it help him if he ends up going to trial?

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“He’s a likable guy, and he can take complex issues and simplify them so people can get it,” Mr. Selig says. “People see themselves in him. He’ll look for any opportunity that will give him a place to speak out.”

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Longtime political writers here say the populist makeover is part of Blagojevich’s attempt to stroke sympathy from potential jurors, should his case reach trial.

“It’s his Hail Mary,” says Steve Rhodes, editor of The Beachwood Reporter, an independent online news site that examines how city and state news is covered by the mainstream press. “It’s the best card he has to play other than turning state’s evidence. He’s taken it much farther with more success than I would ever have dreamt. In the end, my feeling is that he’ll end up in prison.”

The Blagojevich musical is in step with “Hizzoner: Daley the First,” another local hit that skewers former Mayor Richard J. Daley. The shows are filling seats without much publicity, apparently giving audiences a much-needed opportunity to laugh together about the machine politics for which Chicago and Illinois are known.

“The machine is ripe for satire because it’s so out in front of us,” says Mr. Rhodes. “Satire requires a knowingness on the part of the audience and, the way the machine operates, you almost think it should be a secret like organized crime, but it’s not that at all.”

After a sold-out run at its home space in Chicago’s Old Town, Second City as of this weekend transferred the show to front and center of the city itself: the Chicago Shakespeare Theater located at the tip of Navy Pier downtown. Second City Vice President Kelly Leonard says the idea of a rock opera about Blagojevich came to him as soon as the scandal broke. Almost three weeks later, the show opened and sold out its first run – without advertising.

The 50-minute show presents Blagojevich as a lovable but dim “scrappy guy,” seduced into the Chicago machine only because he has a taste for free dinners at a local steakhouse and wouldn’t have to pay parking tickets. Adapting songs from other musicals that have a messianic bent (“Godspell,” “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” “Hair”), “Rod Blagojevich Superstar!” features five improvisers playing different roles, including Senator Burris, federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who also happened to attend the show twice.

“My party, my party, why have you forsaken me,” states actor Bland, toward the play's beginning. “Machine, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Audiences were particularly receptive during a five-show run in Springfield, the state capital, says Second City's Mr. Leonard. “They had been living a six-year nightmare with this guy, so for a lot of people it was a chance to laugh instead of cry during what had been a really difficult time,” he says. The show proves there's a public need for theater ripped from the headlines, he adds. Indeed, Second City is preparing a musical about the Wall Street bailout and may take it to New York.

“We can take advantage of [public] anger and give it a cathartic stage release, [as] opposed to someone burning down someone’s house,” he says.

Despite interviewing Bland and cast member Mike Bradecich on his radio show, Blagojevich is ambivalent about seeing the production, says Mr. Selig, his spokesman. He hasn’t put it on his schedule but is “looking forward to seeing it at some point,” says Selig.

Time will tell how Blagojevich will react to lyrics such as, “Rod Blagojevich Superstar/Are you as nuts as we think you are?”

Says Selig, “The governor is able to laugh when it’s appropriate.”

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