By Elaine Liner
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
There is so much good will straining against the levees of Tomfoolery, a buttoned-down revue of satirical tunes by 72-year-old smartass Tom Lehrer, that you don't mind when, midway through, it floods over the songwriter's self-conscious cleverness and cuteness. Because, after a while, the charisma of three men and three women (plus director-pianist-host Terry Dobson, who founded StageDoor Musicals) is all that keeps you from sneaking out during the 15-minute intermission. Actually, the realization that someone in the Theatre Three building who recognized me might witness my escape was all that kept me from sneaking out.
Director Dobson has assembled six performers of every size, shape, and temperament to deliver 27 tunes across two acts, as well as some updated between-song banter that Lehrer used in his nightclub act of the '50s, '60s, and early '70s. The women (Sally Soldo, Lisa J. Miller, Amy Mills) are all passionate belters who at times threaten to knock the walls back a few feet. The men (Stan Graner, Nye Cooper, Bruce Coleman) compensate for more modest voices with an impish tendency to insinuate themselves with the audience via raised eyebrow and cockeyed grin. Everyone has their moment -- Cooper does an endearing Elmer Fudd rant about hunting; Graner performs a stiff-backed, flamenco-flavored ode to codependency with "The Masochism Tango"; and Soldo effortlessly flattens the hypocrisy of small towns and motherhood with monstrous maternal glee.
Political and apolitical spleen runneth over, so much so that Lehrer's topical songs sound pleased with themselves all out of proportion to their strengths. Want a folksy tune about pornography that's both edgy and humorous? The "Smut" that the company sings about in this show (as Nye Cooper clutches a copy of "Derriere" to his chest) doesn't compare to the dirty-movie odes of Romanovsky and Phillips, who manage to snicker at the silliness of adults-only fare but confess to enthusiastic patronage at the same time. You say humorless Catholicism deserves a musical kick in the starched pants? Me too, but bypass "The Vatican Rag" and seek out some of the best recorded tirades on the subject from Magge, Terre, and Suzze Roche. And who among us supports pollution and nuclear holocaust? Hell, even corporate polluters and the nuke manufacturers are clever enough to shroud their misdeeds in campaigns of P.R. compassion these days; they've satirized themselves more alarmingly than Lehrer ever could've satirized them.
For all its deprecating cheek, Tomfoolery cannot emerge from the shabby basement of obsolescence that an ever more omnivorous, overcrowded, and self-referential satellite media has consigned it to. The lame habit of politicians taking easy stands -- for literacy and against crime, say -- won't go out of style as long as the electorate wants to be swayed by platitudes rather than principles. Unfortunately, a political satirist can serve us sizzling sacred cow on a platter for only as long as it takes the media to catch up with his herd of targets. Given the surfeit of pop-cultural skewering in the United States over the last two decades, we've already consumed, digested, and excreted Tom Lehrer's favorite beefs.