"Dave," a movie about an accidental president, is adapted for the stage

Movie "Dave" adapted for the stage
Movie "Dave" adapted for the stage 05:50

The movie "Dave" is based on a simple premise: anybody in America can become president and here's what might happen if they do. The 1993 film stars Kevin Kline as Dave, an unsuspecting everyman who's asked to be a secret stand-in. When the real commander in chief has a stroke, Dave gets stuck in the job. 

Now, Dave is singing about his presidential predicament in a musical.

The musical retelling of "Dave" debuted at Washington's Arena Stage this week, introducing the phony-but-well-meaning executive to a new generation. CBS News' Ed O'Keefe spoke to Drew Gehling and Mamie Parris, who star as Dave and the first lady. 

As they prepared for their roles, both actors said they took inspiration from a wide range of White House residents.

"I'm going full Millard Fillmore. Zachary Taylor. You know? I like to go for the really, really forgettable presidents. That's what everybody wants to see," Gehling said. 

"There's a lot of isms that are inherent in politics," he said. "There's a lot of very specific hand movements that get used by everyone. This guy does this thing, or this guy really likes to gesture with his full hand, and sometimes it's two fingers, and sometimes it's a side chop."

Mamie Parris and Drew Gehling, who star as the real first lady and fake president in the musical "Dave" CBS News

Producers have been working to bring "Dave" to the stage for more than four years – long before the 2016 campaign. But after the election of Donald Trump, director Tina Landau says the feel-good story took on a deeper meaning.

"The piece became more necessary," Landau said. 

"We've very purposely tried to keep it timeless, but in doing so we have found that it remains timely every day in new ways," she added.

What Landau hopes to accomplish with audiences? Getting people to vote.

"I feel like the show is a lot about participation, and it's participation in our politics and also in our personal relationships," Landau said.

Drew Gehling as Dave Arena Stage

Washington is a fitting place for her show to open, with the real White House just two miles up the road. The city has a long history as an early proving ground for big-budget shows from classics like "West Side Story" and "Hello Dolly" to new hits like "Mean Girls" and "Dear Evan Hansen." Many major musicals find their legs, notes and choreography in D.C.

The goal is that eventually Dave and his singing staffers will make it to Broadway. But Gheling hopes the show's message – that one man can make a difference – will first resonate in the nation's capital.

"Everybody that lives and works in Washington, D.C., especially, no one came here to be a part of a problem. Everyone came here to fix something or was sent here to fix something and I think the altruism inherent in that is something that Dave is about," Gehling said.

It's a message his silver-screen counterpart would seem to endorse.