Theatre in Port’s production of American satirist Tom Lehrer’s Tomfoolery is a savvy evening of wit and wisdom that’s just the tonic for the current foibles and terrors of global hysteria in 2004. Four decades since their creation, it’s fascinating to revisit more than two dozen songs that shamelessly send up everything from dismemberment (“I Hold Your Hand in Mine”) to “National Brotherhood Week,” where race relations are bemoaned by the notion that “Hate is as American as apple pie.”
From the opening “March on the Cast,” summoned by Roger Perkins’ ever-steady and supportive on-stage piano, the energetic troupe exudes life to the show, ably directed by Di Nyland Proctor who once again (cross-reference below) makes clever use of the postage-stamp stage and steps, while giving her charges movement and changes that accentuate their skills without pushing their artistic envelopes to exhaustion.
The “Weiner Schnitzel Waltz” is an early example of the ensemble’s ability to swing and sing with aplomb; Stephen Simms’ near word-perfect declamation of “The Elements” (with no apologies required to Gilbert and Sullivan) was a marvel of diction and breath control; Chris Burke’s understatement and engaging facial expressions were just right to set up the near-literal gag of “She’s My Girl.” That was proceeded by “In Old Mexico” where the wonderfully zany Edda Gburek kept her bulls at bay as she slithered around the ring with ease.
Cliff Le Jeune serves as both affable host (saddled as he was with a script that would benefit from a serious trim – the universality of these songs needs little introduction or explanation) and expertly delivers the multi-level message of “Masochism Tango,” an Ode to Pain that puzzles the few or immediately transports the many to their darker sides: yum, yum!
Stewart Simpson’s set is functional and simple with the themes of Lehrer’s targets filling the backdrop. Only the brilliant green of the martini’s olives seemed a tad too loud. There weren’t many challenges in the lighting plan, but Peter Servos never left the tireless performers dancing in the dark. Special mention must be made of Michael Greves’ prop selection, using a covey of hats, an over-sized cardigan and bold vestments to seamlessly add plausibility to the constantly changing characterization as each song moved on to the next.
Lehrer fans will be rewarded with their favourites: “Wernher von Braun” with its carefree sentiment “Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down,” is as timeless and telling as ever; the joy of porn unabashedly declaimed in “Smut,” marvellously dredges up memories of plain brown wrappers, and “The Vatican Rag” is still fresh and irreverent—even as some parishes are threatened with bankruptcy for sins that can never be exorcised with a few “Hail Marys.”
Tomfoolery is as relevant as ever—come for the laughs, stay for the insight! JWR