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The Arts
October 25-31, 2006

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Dirty looks: David Curley is shocked to learn that Ashley Bening admires the virtues of 'Smut.'

Tom's Time

The sassy lyrics of Tom Lehrer get revived in 'Tomfoolery'

By Marianne Messina

THERE WERE some diehard Tom Lehrer fans at a recent presentation of Tomfoolery in the upstairs, cabaret-style San Pedro Square Theatre. At least three quarters of the 10pm "singalong" crowd actually sang along. They not only knew the melodies but, in many cases, did not have to look at the handy lyric printouts. Half the country has grown up with Lehrer's '50s and '60s creations—"Silent E," from the TV show Electric Company, "Pollution," "Who's Next?" "Be Prepared," "Send the Marines." Yet the songs have a strikingly odd relevance, underscored by some lyric updating: "Remember Mama, I'm off to get Osama."

By special permission, this co-production of Lehrer's musical review includes the irreverent and hilarious "Chanukah in Santa Monica," sung by Dan Galpin, Doug Brook and David Curley. Only the Gilbert and Sullivanesque song "Elements" stumped the crowd—that's the one that starts out "There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium ..." and ends with a sweeping finish, "chlorine, carbon, cobalt, copper, tungsten, tin and sodium." Dressed in lab coat and thick dark glasses, performer Galpin had to show off how fast he could do the "Elements"—humorously, wonderfully fast.

Actually, it must also be admitted that the audience dropped the ball during the introduction to "Fight, Fiercely Harvard." Wearing his Harvard colors, Curley called on the crowd for words one isn't supposed to say in polite company. Someone yelled out "Yale." It took a while to get "anal sex," which seemed to warm up the cast of pom-pom girls, Ashley Bening, Hilary Little and Rebecca Wallace. But when the next word Curley coaxed out of the crowd was "darn," he gave up, commenting, "C'mon this is a 10 o'clock crowd!"

Though most of the shows are not singalongs, the hoot 'n' holler, "all together now" approach creates the perfect frame of mind for taking in Lehrer's frat-boy humor. In addition to silly, hyperintellectual lyrics, Lehrer's humor loves the dissonance between tone and content. Nasty, cynical lyrics are set to light soft-shoe or raucous burlesque. In a romantic-comedic dance number, Curley and Little sing "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park." And in the even more romantic "When You Are Old and Gray," big, eye-rolling Brook romances sexy, blonde Bening while Galpin romances Curley with lines like "And your boyish irresponsibility and what now is charming juvenility will in time lose their adorability and appear much more like imbecility."

Directed by Jonathan Rosen and co-produced by Stagelight Productions and Studio Theatre of California, this production prefers a tickle to a slap. It's more cute than raunchy, less boisterous than it could be, heavy on costume changes, light on glitz. Galpin most personifies the sardonic, college prankster often suggested by the humor. Curley does everything with a twinkle in his eye, which works especially well in "She's My Girl," sung sitting on the edge of the stage under a red spot light.

In "The Irish Ballad," the performers spoof the dance form by acting as if they have poles shoved up their—ah—spines. After Curley makes a crack about sour notes coming from the band, Rosen, who's playing piano, gets up in a huff and storms off—I'll leave you to see how that gets resolved. Wide-open floor space gives this cast plenty of opportunity to get into the audience and make interactive mischief. If you don't like participation, either sit in the dark corners of the room, or when they start "I got it from Agnes," duck.

Tomfoolery, a Studio Theatre of California production in association with Stagelight Productions, plays Thursday-Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 7 and 10pm (singalong show) and Sunday at 3 and 7pm through Oct. 29 at Theatre on San Pedro Square, 29 N. San Pedro St., San Jose. Tickets are $18-$25; singalong show $15, no reserved tables. (800.838.3006)

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