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Times Argus Preview Feature on Tomfoolery at Lost Nation Theater appearing in today's paper. Written by the arts editor himself, Jim Lowe!

June 30, 2016
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oritinally appearing Thursday, June 30, 2016

LNT celebrates the music wit and of Tom Lehrer

By JIM LOWE STAFF WRITER (photos by Stefan Hard)

 

pic of Times Argus article on Tomfoolery

   Singer-songwriter Tom Lehrer once famously said, “I know there are people who don’t love their fellow man, and I hate people like that.” And one of his friends, explaining Lehrer’s success, said “Always predict the worst, and you’ll be hailed as a prophet.”

   Lost Nation Theater will present “Tomfoolery,” a 32-song revue celebrating Lehrer’s unique wit and music, July 7-24 at Montpelier City Hall Arts Center.

   “Most of what he was doing, in terms of satire and social issues, and his pure entertainment value, is as valid today as it was then,” explains Tim Tavcar, who is directing. “He had an incredible gift for marrying musical styles to words that he used to address specific issues, which include nuclear proliferation, race relations, and criticisms of self-important musical movements like the folk song movement.” 

   But, really!

   “He was a little bit of a rogue because he does write a whole lot of songs about off-color subjects,” Tavcar added in a recent interview between rehearsals. “There’s satire, sarcasm, silliness, savage humor and sexual innuendo, something for everyone — and something to offend everyone!” 

   The cast of four — Nick Bombicino, Kathleen Keenan, William Pelton and Carol Spradling — will be heard in some of Lehrer’s best-loved songs, like “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” “Masochism Tango” and “Vatican Rag.” Performers double on instruments, including piano, guitar, ukulele, violin and upright bass. 

Tom Lehrer's "Bright College Days" performed by the cast of LNT's Tomfoolery. In this verse, the "alumni" have gotten a little tipsy as they reminisce.

   Lehrer’s songs are known not only for their searing caustic wit, but also for their musical sophistication. In fact, Lehrer began studying classical piano before turning to pop, enabling him to slyly match his words with appropriate music.

   “There are a lot of beautiful juxtapositions,” explained Bombicino, who is the show’s music director. “A good example is the Christmas song, where he says that the songs that we have don’t really reflect what we celebrate as Christmas anymore. So he writes his own quintessential Christmas tune with very easy little chord changes. He then uses quotes from famous Christmas carols, but he flips the words around — in direct opposition to what you expect them to be.

   “He uses musical style in the same way he uses his wit,” Bombicino added.

   Lehrer’s arrangements can be very complex. 

   “It’s very impressive — full orchestrations on the piano while he was singing these songs,” Bombicino said. “So it plays to all the senses at once.”

   “National Brotherhood Week,” for example, starts off bright and peppy.

   “Within a sentence and a half, you realize it’s not really a happy little thing,” Bombicino said. “His music and the styles he chooses to use are a joke in and of themselves. It’s a whole other level.”

   Lehrer, born in 1928, grew up a math genius, and entered Harvard at age 15. There he began writing comic songs to entertain his friends. Paralleling a career as a math professor at various schools, including MIT, he continued writing and recording songs that brought him more and more attention. By the end of the 1950s, Lehrer had sold 370,000 records.

stefan hard pic of "new math" scene of LNT's Tomfoolery

   In the 1960s, Lehrer was employed as songwriter for the American version of a satirical TV show, “That Was the Week that Was.” In the 1970s, he concentrated on teaching mathematics and musical theater, although he wrote 10 songs for the PBS children’s show, “The Electric Company.” (Some of those songs will be included in this revue.) His last public performance was a 1972 fundraising tour for Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern.

   In 1980, “Tomfoolery,” this revue of Lehrer’s songs, was created by Cameron Mackintosh and became a hit on the London stage. This was followed by an off-Broadway production at the Village Gate in 1981 

   Tavcar has tweaked the show in two ways: First, he reordered the songs to reflect the chronology of Lehrer’s life, and second, he added Lehrer’s own words as commentary 

   “We have three songs about mathematics in there,” Tavcar said. “And then there is the famous song about the Table of Elements, set to Gilbert and Sullivan.

   “We have what I call the love, sex and relationships part,” Tavcar continued. “It starts with ‘Smut’ and then goes down from there.”

LOST NATION THEATER

   Lost Nation Theater presents “Tomfoolery,” the wit and songs of Tom Lehrer, July 7-24 at City Hall Arts Center, 39 Main St. in Montpelier. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday.Tickets are $25-$30 ($15 July 7), $20-$25 for seniors and students (not recommended for children); call 802-229-0492, or CLICK HERE . Opening night party, at 7 p.m. Friday, July 8, features live music and a cash bar provided by Sweet Melissa’s.