IN APRIL OF THIS YEAR TOM LEHRER TURNED 90 AND HE IS STILL ON TOPIC
TOMFOOLERY - A REVUE OF LEHRER’S SONGS STILL RINGS TRUE LIKE THEY WERE WRITTEN FOR TODAY’S TRUMP ERA
TOMFOOLERY – The Words and Music of Tom Lehrer is back at Landmark Musical Theatre - Now on stage at the Basement of The Shelton Theatre through August 24th. This musical revue of Tom Lehrer’s early work was the first production of Artistic Director Jonathan Rosen as he opened LMT as one of the newest San Francisco's small theatre companies. Rosen says this reboot ends LMT’s 4th season - “In 2015 I was asked to direct this musical and I had such a good time, that I moved the production to San Francisco and thus began Landmark Musicals”. Rosen brings a fresh new cast and local favorites to carry out this clever revue of Lehrer’s best work.
If you are new to Lehrer’s work, he's a former Harvard math professor who also taught locally at UC Santa Cruz. He used to perform in the '50s at such hip clubs as Hollywood's Interlude and San Francisco's the Hungry i. The six actors complement one another and you can tell they have a great time performing this show - singing and dancing thanks to Gary Stanford Jr’s polished choreography.
The A-list cast includes Tara DeMoulin, Frank Gallo, Rachel Perkins, Jepoy Ramos, Len Shaffer, and Nicole Thordsen. They are all talented diverse local musical artists, who sing, dance, and complement Tom's comical and iconic lyrics.
This musical revue of Tom Lehrer's satirical songs from the '50s and '60s shines by comparison for the sheer pleasure of its wit, which is clear in the dialogue between the more than 30 songs presented in two acts.
A video clip with Stephen Sondheim interviewing Leher opens the two hour revue, as the ensemble performs the first number “Be Prepared” dedicated to the Boy Scouts of America what Lehrer calls “The BSA those noble little bastions of Democracy”. The company is splendid as they sing “keep those reefers hidden where you sure they can’t be found”. The songs themselves, far from being dated, are as pertinent as the day they were written. Lehrer's fabled sendups of environmental pollution, nuclear annihilation, sexually transmitted diseases, pornography, drugs, and religion are far ahead of their time.
“Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” features the dapper Gallo and Thordsen who prove their elegant voices as they sing about a wonderful summer day “when they see us coming the birds all try and hide”. DeMoulin, Ramos, and Shaffer all sing “I Wanna Go Back to Dixie” the three sing the anti racist song “Whopping slaves and selling cotton”.
"The Elements," is a zippy catalogue of Earth's basic substances from helium to uranium, mixed with timeliness by current headlines about "cold fusion." The word puzzle is well sung by Ramos and Perkins as they turn it into a modern rap of elements. Lehrer's shady additions to the periodic table "linoleum and condominium and two of my personal favorites, Librium and Valium" might have been discovered by chemists in Berkeley.
TOMFOOLERY is directed by Rosen and he also plays the keys as he directs the facetious musical. This is a wickedly wonderful celebration of wit and wordplay. There are a ton of costume changes as the songs progress, and Ava Tolentino eye catching bull and Irish Jig props work with each number. “In Old Mexico” features Thordsen, Gallo, Ramos and Shaffer as they tango of sorts and sing “the mariachis would serenade and would not shut up til they were paid”. The company has gifted voices and the comic spirit of Lehrer’s work did not skip a beat.
“The Folk Song Army,” sung by the accomplished Ramos, Perkins, and DeMoulin mocks the deadly earnestness of folk singers:WE ARE THE FOLK SONG ARMY, EVERYONE OF US CARES. WE ALL HATE POVERTY, WAR, AND INJUSTICE, UNLIKE THE REST OF YOU SQUARES”. Also in the mix is Lehrer’s parodies of the Cold War-era obsession with nuclear apocalypse, which retain their relevance. They include “The Wild West Is Where I Want to Be,” “So Long, Mom A Song for World War III,” and an audience participation version of “We Will All Go Together When We Go.”
The inimitable songs of TOMFOOLERY will make you smile not only with their mockery but also with their variety. Lehrer writes in all genres of songs: the pastoral style the dear-heart school of writing "My Home Town"; tunes with a calypso beat like "Pollution", and the classic folk-song lampoons "The Irish Ballad" featuring the superb voice of Shaffer and the entire company. Another particular standout is the energetic Perkins who had a show stopping sing and tap performance of George Murphy.
One thing this two hour romp does not have is too much polish, and this keeps his songs low gloss and avoids being glib or too campy. This enables the performers to absorb some rough edges in the staging and still come off first-rate. The result is a terrifically entertaining evening.
Lehrer’s two familiar hits stop the show; “The Masochism Tango” with Ramos and Demoulin brings the masters words its pure sarcasm “I ache for the touch of your lips dear, but much more for the touch of your whips dear - say its me that you want to dismember”. Ramos is all over the small black box stage running and crawling from her whip.
That is followed by “The Vatican Rag” with the entire cast as Gallo is dressed in full Pope garb. Lehrer would always end his show introducing this song “The church said it was alright to kill a man on a Friday but it was a sin to eat him”, Sung in ragtime mode the lyrics include these great lines:
“Get in line in that processional, Step into that small confessional, There, the guy who's got religion'll, Tell you if your sin's original. If it is, try playin' it safer, Drink the wine and chew the wafer, Two, four, six, eight, Time to transubstantiate! So get down upon your knees, Fiddle with your rosaries, Bow your head with great respect, And genuflect, genuflect, genuflect!
Landmark Musical announced their 5th season that begins in Feb of 2019. EVITA and THE DROWSY CHAPERONE will be produced in the Sheldon Theatres Stage II. But in the meantime join this marvelous company for a night of Wicked words and Mischievous music by the amazing Tom Lehrer.
LANDMARK MUSICAL THEATRE
and the Shelton Theatre Present
Lots of Wicked and Mischievous Music by Tom Lehrer
Directed by Jonathan Rosen
Choreography by Gary Stanford Jr,
Stage Management, Costumes, and props by Ava Tolentino
Tara DeMoulin, Frank Gallo, Rachel Perkins, Jepoy Ramos,
Len Shaffer and Nicole Thordsen
Must close August 24th
533 Sutter Street San Fran
Runs two hours with one intermission, tickets at
Tom Lehrer: Be Prepared (studio solo) (1953)
Tom Lehrer - The Masochism Tango
Tom Lehrer: In Old Mexico (studio solo)
Tom Lehrer - The Vatican Rag - fabulous version - LIVE FILM From Copenhagen