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Jim Lowe, Arts Editor and Theater Critic for The Times Argus gives a big Thumbs Up to LNT's Tomfoolery - celebrating the genius of satirical songwriter Tom Lehrer

July 10, 2016
originally published in The Times Argus July 9, 2016 Reprinted with permission

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JIM LOWE / STAFF PHOTO Lost Nation Theater’s “Tomfoolery” features, from left, Kathleen Keenan, Nick Bombicino, Carol Spradling and Bill Pelton.



Harvard satirist’s wit packs ’em in


   MONTPELIER — Satirical songwriter Tom Lehrer hasn’t been active in decades, yet a sold-out house at City Hall Arts Center greeted Thursday’s preview performance — a first ever — of Lost Nation Theater’s Lehrer revue, “Tomfoolery.”


   And both those who knew Lehrer’s wonderfully caustic songs, and those who were new to them, seemed thrilled.

 Lehrer, an award-winning mathematician born in 1928, won fame and fortune in the 1950s and ’60s parodying popular culture with his songs, which he performed everywhere from coffeehouses to international television. No one was left unscathed as he satirized American hometown living (“The Old Dope Peddler”), academia (“New Math”), the military-industrial complex (“Send in the Marines”), 
the political folk-song movement (“Folk Song Army”), and sexual mores (“I Got It from Agnes”). Even religion wasn’t spared (“Vatican Rag”).

   In 1980, “Tomfoolery,” a revue created by Cameron Mackintosh including the aforementioned songs, was a hit on the London stage, leading to more than 200 productions, including off-Broadway at the Village Gate for 120 performances. For Lost Nation’s production, director Tim Tavcar has reordered the songs and added a few, including a couple from Lehrer’s time as songwriter for the PBS children’s series “The Electric Company.” 

    The fine ensemble was led on stage by Nick Bombicino, the music director who accompanied on piano. He also proved a witty singer, particularly in “A Christmas Carol,” enjoying the American holiday tradition of greed.

   Kathleen Keenan sang and employed her guitar in “The Wild West Is Where I Want to Be,” mixing cowboys and Los Alamos. Carol Spradling waxed eloquent in “Werner von Braun,” the Nazi scientist hired by the Americans. Both enjoyed the self-imposed misery of “Irish Ballad.” 

   Bill Pelton joined Keenan for “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park.” Tavcar enjoyed a couple of delicious cameos, “Smut” and “Masochism Tango.” All were able singers, and Spradling proved a skillful pianist when stepping in for Bombicino.

   Ellen E. Jones created and lit an attractive and effective coffeehouse-like set (though the show might have felt more immediate if the action were moved a bit forward). Still, this was a polished production. 

   Lost Nation’s “Tomfoolery” proved just plain fun — rather than offending anyone, offending everyone.


   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, $20-$25 for seniors and students (not recommended for children); call 802-229-0492, or click here