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Michael Moore on Broadway: The Terms of My Surrender

Michael Moore stars in The Terms of My Surrender, directed by Michael Mayer, at Broadway's Belasco Theatre.Michael Moore
Michael Moore                                                                    (© Joan Marcus)



                                           by Julia Polinsky


Regardless of what you think of his opinions, Michael Moore can really tell a story that touches the heart. If you thought that The Terms of My Surrender would be all politics, politics, politics and no heart, think again.


From the moment he enters in front of the giant American flag filling the whole rear stage of the Belasco and utters the ominous question: “How The F*ck Did This Happen?” it’s clear that Moore is hauling out his trademark persona and beating his favorite horse. It’s not dead yet, that horse, and with this show, he gives it significant backstory.


And story. And story. He spends part of the show standing before that huge flag, talking. As he tells story after story, the flag changes color and visuals, morphing to suit what Moore’s talking about.


Sometimes, it displays the President’s face; sometimes, a photo of Moore in one political action or another, sometimes books. Sometimes, fading to black. Sometimes, all blue; sometimes, shades of red. You get the idea. Scenic designer David Rockwell and projections designer Andrew Lazarow have used that huge flag as a giant canvas to cue the audience what to feel: anger, grief, unity, outrage.



The set design is so slick, and so well integrated into the show, that it’s not hard to imagine how potentially boring two hours of listening to Moore bloviate could be without the set. Be grateful for a stage that has moving parts, so a podium can be center stage, then disappear and Moore can move over to a desk that slides in stage left. He talks; the desk slides away, and we’re back to the podium. Then from the other side, a comfy chair shows up, and Moore works the room from there. Moving from micro-set to micro-set breaks up the possible monotony of listening to The Message, relentlessly pounded into our ears.


Director Michael Mayer has given Moore a slack rein; with an improviser like this, he’d be silly not to. Moore is no fool, and one of the best motivators of a crowd you can imagine. That aw-shucks, laid off Midwestern GM Plant worker, the splayfooted hulking presence with his gimme cap and his glasses, is one of the most perfectly crafted personas in modern life. What director would interfere?


Moore is, of course, preaching to the choir, in this show; judging by audience reaction, pretty much everyone there has the same politics he does. Given that unity of feeling, why bother going through the tedium, expense, and aggravation of mounting a Broadway show, with its implication that there will be a Show, not just a lecture? To entertain? Always, with him, but so what? To provoke? Um, provoke to what?


The Terms of My Surrender is a call to action. Yes, it’s entertaining; he’s a gifted storyteller, and some of the stories are enchanting. He’s a showman, and inserts a game show (hilarious), a hypothetical campaign rally (funny and thought provoking), and some unexpected Broadway-style razzle dazzle here and there.


But most of all, he’s a hugely successful provocateur, and can move a despairing audience to be activists. Underneath the tales he tells, the message rings loud and clear: one person, doing one small thing, can make a big change.


At the show’s end, you could hear audience members in the aisles and outside the Belasco talking with optimism and dedication about starting tomorrow to do One Small Thing. That’s a huge success for Moore. Is it politics? Or is it Broadway? In this case, the answer is yes.



Michael Moore: The Terms of My Surrender at the Belasco Theatre

Through October 22

111 West 44th Street

New York, NY 10019

Tickets: $29-213