Group: West End Players Guild
Venue: Union Avenue Christian Church, 733 Union Blvd.
Dates: October 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10, 11
Tickets: $20; contact 314-367-0025 or www.westendplayers.org
Story: Tom Lehrer is an American mathematician who graduated from Harvard University at the age of 18 with a bachelor’s degree and at 19 with a master’s degree in mathematics. He’s also a gifted composer, pianist and singer, whose knack for parodies made light of political and social headlines and movements of the 1950s and ‘60s. In the late ‘70s Cameron Mackintosh and Robin Ray devised a revue titled Tomfoolery that combines 30 of Lehrer’s witty, satirical tunes into a two-act revue that played briefly in London in 1980 and off-Broadway in 1981.
Highlights: Many of Lehrer’s irreverent and clever lyrics remain amusing and insightful today, such as his recitation of the elemental table of chemicals in the style of a Gilbert & Sullivan operatic number, his Vatican Rag approach to Roman Catholicism, his paean to old-fashioned Smut and his wisely observant nod to the apolitical science of German rocket scientist Wehrner von Braun. Hearing these tunes again reminds one of Lehrer’s innate talent for observing the folly of human nature and putting it to music.
Other Info: Unfortunately, the current West End Players Guild’s production of Tomfoolery seems lackluster and uninspired, proving more to bring out the dated nature of Lehrer’s lesser numbers rather than the witty genius of his better works. Cindy Duggan’s direction is more flat than robust, and her quintet of performers rarely conveys the composer’s artistic talents. The result is two hours that are far more dreary than entertaining, albeit with several high spots.
Chuck Lavazzi, e.g., shines on the witty number, The Elements, getting into fine Gilbert & Sullivan spirit. Lavazzi, Matt Anderson and Andrew Hampton have tongues firmly in cheek reminiscing about the “good old days” in I Wanna Go Back to Dixie. Jane Abling does a saucy bit reflecting on the seven deadly sins in My Home Town, while Elisabeth Zimmerman leads the ensemble in a witty bit about The Silent E that Lehrer wrote about spelling for the children’s TV series, The Electric Company.
Still, the high points are overwhelmed by too much drudgery and dullness where fire and passion might more invigorate an audience. Pacing is dreary, and the performance too often is in ‘idle’ rather than ‘drive.’
Russell Bettlach’s set design nicely sets the stage for the performers with a pair of tables and chairs at either end of the performing area to bracket the entertainers in their various bits, with an appealing silvery backdrop behind a bar area, all effectively lit by Amy Ruprecht-Belt’s lighting design. Bettlach also provides the handsome suits and gowns.
Duggan offers some rather perfunctory choreography performed in somewhat uninspired fashion by the players (although The Masochistic Tango has its moments), while musical director and pianist Charlie Mueller is ably assisted by bassist David Williams (Jennifer Coulson and Michael Monsey will play bass in subsequent performances). Still, this Tomfoolery is more boring than brash.
Rating: A 3 on a scale of 1-to-5.