Ace Productions Equity Co-op


Adapted by Cameron Mackintosh and Robin Ray
Musical arrangements by Chris Walker and Robert Fisher.

Venues & Dates: Firehall Theatre, Vancouver, 19 - 24 October 2004 | Presentation House, West Vancouver, 26 October - 6 November 2004 | Burr Theatre Lounge, New Westminster, 9 - 20 November 2004

Reviewer: Elizabeth Paterson




Director Valerie Easton Musical director Gordon Roberts Stage Manager Maria Denholme Producer Dick Mells

Actor-Singers Susan Anderson, Jayme Armstrong, Damon Calderwood, and Steve Maddocks



None of the very talented cast of Tomfoolery will resent my noting that the star of this production is the songwriter / satirist Tom Lehrer. This show presents Lehrer’s songs of the late fifties and early sixties. The cast’s fast-paced and energetic rendering of Lehrer’s words and music focuses attention on the songs’ social and political commentary.

Directed and staged by Valerie Easton, Tomfoolery flows extremely well. Easton choreographs her actor-singers about the stage giving the show great variety, but she does so without losing the intimacy that Lehrer’s songs demands. Entrances and exits are simple, unobtrusive, and managed so as to sustain the show's internal rhythm.

The actor-singers played well as an ensemble blending their different voices when required, or sometimes playing off their different voices, to produce effects that wrung the best of the irony from the songs. “Who’s Next” (to get the A-bomb), Act I's penultimate song, was deeply alarming yet desperately funny thanks to the cast’s clever close-in work. Each cast member has his own moment in the spotlight, and occasionally they work in pairs and threesomes. Anderson and Maddock set an early high standard with the bizarre “Killing Pigeons in the Park.” Armstrong, with her expressive face, shone “In Old Mexico” while Calderwood’s “I Wanna Go Back to Dixie,” a send-up of southern romanticism, was both moving and terrifying.


The musical director and pianist Gordon Roberts captured the songwriter’s style of playing with its irregularities and changes of pace. Roberts was also given two songs to sing, as Lehrer did at the piano, including the great favorite “Wernher von Braun”: "once they go up who cares where they come down."

The show Tomfoolery, designed in the late 1970s, occasionally suffers from a rather seventies-bland placement order of the songs. The anti-war songs, for instance, each on their own some of Lehrer’s best work, are sprinkled throughout. Given that these biting condemnations of American military and foreign policy have such immediacy in today’s world, they would have a greater and sustained impact if grouped and framed as a set rather than being spread over both acts.

Lenny Bruce taught the young American generation of the Eisenhower years “to talk dirty.” Mort Sahl led a mild (in retrospect) frontal attack on politicians. Lehrer, however, captured the minds of the generation through sheer wit and outrageousness. It was okay to be clever and subversive, especially if done with sophistication and charm. This show captures some of this outrageous quality and gives a sense of how truly disturbing some of Lehrer’s works were at the time. But, as the best satire always is, this show is not only very funny but also transcends its historical occasion.

© 2004 Elizabeth Paterson