30 November 2006

Tomfoolery

Tomfoolery: The Words and Music of Tom Lehrer
Melbourne Theatre Company
25 November 2006
The Arts Centre, Playhouse


From its unexpected and explosive opening, Tomfoolery is a thoroughly enjoyable night of song, dance and comedy. As expected of the Melbourne Theatre Company, it is designed, directed and performed very well, but it fails to be the challenging and irresistible theatre that should be produced by our local flagship company.

Tomfoolery was adapted by Cameron Mackintosh and Robin Ray in 1980, as a cabaret of loosely linked Tom Lehrer songs. Lehrer’s work remains funny - very funny. How can you not laugh at 'The Masochism Tango', 'The Vatican Rag' and 'I Got It from Agnes'. His writing is intelligent and witty, but it has become nostalgia rather than the contemporary and shocking satire that it once was. The inclusion of very recent material referencing Korean nuclear testing, Dick Cheaney and murdered KGB agents, reinforced that the absurdities of politics and war really never change. Nonetheless, it didn’t comment on Australian society, apart from proving that we are more aware of US and UK politics than we are of our own.

I also have to question why it was performed in the “original American”, apart from to set up a couple of jokes. Were the accents necessary? Would anyone perform a translated Asian language work with a bad “oriental” accent? The American accents just seemed to distance it further from our own lives.

Then again, I may have been the only person in the audience thinking like that. Tomfoolery is a perfect choice for the (slightly) conservative MTC audience, who were happy to enjoy the show for the nostalgic song and dance night that it was.

The stand out performance of the evening was Mitchell Butel. In fact, it is worth seeing Tomfoolery just for Mitchell. He understood every nuance of the material, supported the ensemble and never let his energy or concentration drop. Keep an eye out for his Elmo in Act 2.

Melissa Madden Grey continued to prove herself to be one of the most versatile, disciplined and funniest around, and Gerry Connolly and Bert LaBonte were contrasting and ideal additions to the ensemble.

The show is, however, being marketed on Rhonda Burchmore. Rhonda is one of our best, but her performance was disappointing. Her energy was low, she didn’t seem to be enjoying herself and failed to reach the standard set by the rest of the cast. She may have been having an off night, but there is no excuse for constantly rearranging jewellery and costume (please just cut the train off that frock), looking at your feet when you move, and failing to stay in character when not “in the spotlight”. The contrast between her and the younger members of the cast was especially noticeable. Learn from those who still love every moment they get on a stage.

If you want well-performed, light-hearted fun for your holiday season theatre outing, Tomfoolery is a good choice, but there are funnier, more relevant and just as well performed cabaret shows next door at the Speigeltent.

This review originally appeared on AussieThearte.com.

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