From left: Moses Brown, Corey Exline, Tim Howard and Valerie Igoe in Tom Foolery: The Words and Music of Tom Lehrer at the Aurora Fox Theater, through Oct. 11, 2020. (Gail Marie Bransteitter, provided by Aurora Fox)
There really should be more applause. These actors deserve more applause.
These were the thoughts that surface at the end of the winking and very fleet show Tom Foolery: The Words and Music of Tom Lehrer on stage at the Aurora Fox through Oct. 11.
You heard right: on stage.
3 stars. Tomfoolery: The Words and Music of Tom Lehrer. Adapted by Cameron Mackintosh and Robin Ray. Musical arrangements by Chris Walker. Directed by Kenny Moten. Music direction by Trent Hines. Choreography Jessica Hindsley. Featuring Moss Brown, Corey Exline, Tim Howard, Valerie Igoe and Beau Bisson. At the Aurora Fox, 9900 E. Colfax Ave., Aurora. Through Oct. 11. Tickets and information at aurorafoxartscenter.org or the box office at 303-739-1970.
One of the main theaters in the metro area, the Aurora Fox Arts Center has launched its season with the citys support and a slew of precautions to stay in line with the Tri-County Health Departments health mandates. Executive producer Helen Murray also enlisted an infectious disease consultant.
All that for many fewer available seats in the 220-seat house.Its a chess match the computer software plays to get as close to filling 90 seats as possible. (The shows are averaging around 40 patrons.)
Live performance during this extended period of COVID-19 has been hard-hit, to put it mildly. The numbers of jobs lost and not yet recovered in the arts sector is chilling. And the ripple effect extends beyond spaces, because arts and culture comprise a many-tentacled economic force in Colorado.
But that doesnt mean theater artists and other performers have given up on engaging audiences. Over the past months, there have been plenty of examples of agility. Theater could be found on a golf course, in a church courtyard; insights could be had in the virtual living room of renowned multi-hyphenate John Lithgow.
There were many more opportunities to deepen ones understanding of and fondness for creatives as well as their craft. But live theater in some of the areas bigger go-to venues has been next to nil. (The Black Actors Guild pulled off something modest yet muscular with an in-person run of Idris Goodwins Hype Man.)
There are signs of a wee (if fragile) opening up: This past weekend, Littletons musical mecca Town Hall Arts Center opened its season with Almost Heaven: The Songs of John Denver at Hudson Gardens, featuring a songsmith as earnest as Lehrer was ironic. Lone Tree Arts Center, which made fine and frequent use of its outdoor space over the past several months, recently announced its in-person main-stage season.
Of course, when youre hangry, theres a chance any treat will do. Frustration at the scarcity of live performance, however, isnt why Tomfoolery is tasty. Credit the appealing voices and deft comedic gestures of its four-person cast instead: Tim Howard as the Bookworm, Valerie Igoe as the Writer, Moss Brown as the College Student and Corey Exline as the Nurse. Director Kenny Moten has teased from his quartet the kind of camaraderie the libretto encourages. Making theater during a pandemic doubtless added to a sense of shared vulnerability and purpose.
Tomfoolery cheekily takes place Today. No, really, right now. The cast members occupy five separate and quarantined rooms: a study, a kitchen, a living-room, a bedroom and a home office. The latter is where musical director Trent Hines sits, finessing the keyboard and keeping the shows numbers humming at quite the clip.
If the coronavirus is the elephant in the room, this production yanks its trunk again and again. In the opening number, Be Prepared, the actors arrive on stage with masks and stay 6 feet away from each other. (There will be some intriguing, teasing exceptions.) This safety-first choreography feels far more playful than strained. Even so, when an actor seizes the opportunity to safely pull down his or her mask, we breathe a sigh, more relief than trepidation. A face, a human face, singing no less!
A man of many talents, songwriter-composer-mathematician Lehrer made his mark in the late 1950s into the mid 60s. His lyrics are zesty, at times naughty. The guy had a prickly way with satirical observations. To quote actor Beau Bissons voice-over intro (amusingly evocative of announcer Don Pardos cadence), Lehrer enjoyed an enormous, limited popularity performing dubious songs of his own devising all of them totally uncalled for.
From windows on opposite sides of the stage, Howard and Igoe launch into one of Lehrers more notable ditties. Poisoning Pigeons in the Park begins oh-so-sweetly before realizing the cruel promise of its title. Lehrer wrote Pollution in 1960, two years before Rachel Carsons ecological tome Silent Spring. (Pollution. Pollution./They got smog, sewage and mud/Turn on your tap/ and get hot and cold running crud.)
The companys enjoyment of Smut is a little infectious. Its all in good, well-timed fun. And, just in case youre thinking its all mildly dirty (and youre not far off), the cast sings Silent E, written for the Childrens Television Workshops 1970s show The Electric Company.
The cast is game, and musical director Hines precise. Even so, the most scene-chewing member of the Aurora Foxs production of Tomfoolery might well be scenic designer Brandon Philip Cases set. Its colorful, distinct, cleverly sectioned rooms add to the players personalities while keeping them at a pandemic-minded remove.
While the musical revue makes winking sport of social-distancing protocols, the Fox does not. Patrons are greeted with contactless ticketing. An usher gets a wee map of where you are to be seated. There are no concessions at this time. The this-way entrance and that-way exit are marked. Masks are required, naturally. Its a lot to take in and then forget (sort of) as you watch the bubbly, 55-minute show.
Somehow it doesnt feel far-fetched to hope the 92-year-old lyricist might be at a piano somewhere penning a smart-aleck tune for these perilous and too absurd times.
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