“Forget everything you learned in school, dummy”: “Dictators 4 Dummies” at Touchstone Theatre


Christopher Shorr (from right) with colleagues from Touchstone Theatre James Jordan, Emma Ackerman, and Mary Wright. Photo provided by Christina Byrne.

This past weekend marked the opening of Touchstone Theatre’s satirical musical comedy, “Dictators 4 Dummies,” written, directed, and starring Moravian College’s own Christopher Shorr, who has served as Moravian’s theatre director since 2008. There are still four performances left this Thursday to Sunday.

The show is set up as a telethon for the fictional organization, “Tyrants of Tomorrow,” which seeks to help young, up-and-coming dictators reach their tyrannical goals. The telethon hosts a variety of special guests, ranging from Joseph Stalin to Muammar Gaddafi, who sing about the ways that they rose to power.

The play offers plenty of immersion throughout, with a “production assistant” walking through the theater before the show and speaking into a headpiece about apparent mishaps going on backstage. When the show begins, she informs the audience that they’re going to be on live TV and  uses cue cards throughout to prompt the appropriate responses, whether applause or laughter.

Shorr plays Generalissimo Carlo Supremo, our host and retired dictator. Other cast members include Jp Jordan as General Jefe Pablo, also a retired dictator as well as an old friend of Carlo’s who shares hosting duties with him, Emma Ackerman as the aforementioned Production Assistant who longs to be taken seriously as a potential dictator, and Mary Wright as the various special guests. Rounding out the cast is a  band comprised of Steven Barnett, Erick Black, Jason E.R. Hedrington, and Chloe Anne Madison.

Wright is a force to be reckoned with. As the various guests, she has numerous costume changes, and her characters have a variety of accents from Russian to German. She takes it all in stride, though, easily slipping into character after character. Ackerman brings an earnestness to the role of production assistant that makes her more nefarious moments all the more chilling. She also has a killer set of pipes.  Her number about Slobodan Milošević is a show-stopper.

Jordan’s gravelly-voiced, rough-around-the-edges Jefe Pablo shows off  some impressive guitar skills and serves as an effective foil to the more smooth and polished Carlo. Shorr exudes a great deal of charisma as Carlo, whose likability makes it clear to the audience just how easily he must have risen to power.

The music and choreography are essential to the piece. Under the musical direction of Hedrington, the songs range from accordion pieces to disco numbers. They’re also incredibly catchy;  at least one is bound to be stuck in your head for the next three days. My only gripe is that the songs aren’t listed anywhere in the program, so you just have to guess what the song’s probably called.

Ashley Tait Weller serves as the show’s choreographer, with each song’s choreography highlighting the actors’ various talents. There’s a kick-line, a soft shoe shuffle, and tap-dancing. The disco number has to be seen to be believed.

Fair warning: the show deals with some very serious topics in a very humorous, satirical light. This may not be to everyone’s liking, but there’s something really liberating about being able to laugh about terrible things. It can be easy to fall into the trap of believing that serious things should be talked about in serious ways. The show is riotously entertaining, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t respect its heavy subject matter. Sometimes, the best way to make an audience think is to make them laugh, and Dictators 4 Dummies does just that.

Performance dates are April 12, 13, and 14 at 8:00 pm and April 15 at 2:00 pm at Touchstone Theatre on the city’s southside. Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for students and seniors, but if you are a student here at Moravian College, be sure to take advantage of the Arts on the Move Program, which allows students to attend theatre, films, exhibits, and more for free. All you have to do is email Shorr at [email protected], informing him which performance you’d like to attend. Click here for more information about the show and click here for more about Arts on the Move.