Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Tomfoolery, Nov 15, 2006

Lyrics and music by Tom Lehrer, adapted by Cameron Mackintosh & Robin Ray
 Playhouse, Victorian Arts Centre, Nov 15 until Dec 16, 2006
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

This reviewer is an unashamed Tom Lehrer fan. Tomfoolery, adapted by Cameron Mackintosh and Robin Ray, is a tribute to Lehrer’s masterly satirical songs.

Lehrer began at Harvard as a fifteen-year-old Mathematics prodigy where he then taught mathematics and began his parallel career as a musical satirist. He performed university revues but quickly developed a reputation that took him to concert tours, television and finally into recording studios when he tired of performing.

He is often vitriolic and his political satire remains pertinent in the Noughties. Nothing is spared criticism in the thirty songs featured in Tomfoolery. We hear favourites including Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, The Masochism Tango, The Vatican Rag and I Hold Your Hand in Mine, some of which were banned by philistines in Adelaide and Brisbane when he toured Australia in 1960.

Lehrer’s lyrics are sublimely clever, cunningly wrought and his rhyming owes much to William S. Gilbert. Punctuating the songs is Lehrer’s inimitable, acerbic patter.

The show is a pastiche performed by Rhonda Burchmore, Mitchell Butel, Gerry Connolly, Bert Labonte and Melissa Madden Gray and directed by Simon Phillips and choreographer, Ross Coleman.

The ensemble romp across sparkling Broadway steps before tattered velvet curtains designed by Gabriela Tylesova. Upstage, the tight five-piece band play and, on stage, Connolly accompanies songs on piano.

There is far more glitz than Lehrer employed. His unembellished, laconic style is absent from this production. At times, the complex choreography, multiple voices and characters interfere with the delivery of the songs. However, the group renditions of the anti-war songs, Who’s Next? And We Will All Go Together When We Go, are rousing.

Butel and Gray’s Masochism Tango is hilarious, Connelly wraps his mouth around the tongue-torturing The Elements and the group enjoy the riotous satire of English grammar, Silent E – Snore, Sniff and Sneeze - N’t.

The five diverse voices are not a perfect harmonic blend and the second half includes more solos. One huge hit was Gray’s version of The Irish Ballad as she Irish jigged her way through the murderous verses of Lehrer’s parody of an interminable Irish folk tune. Lebonte’s croons The Old Dope Pedlar that remains topical.

Lehrer as a bashful master of lyric and satire. One can’t help thinking that making a glossy show is the antithesis of what makes him special.

By Kate Herbert

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