Tomfoolery (Melbourne Fringe) – theatre review

Take 21 of Tom Lehrer’s most irreverent songs and put them into a one-hour revue and you have the makings of a delightful evening with Tomfoolery at Gasworks in Albert Park, part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Photo: Kate Arnott

An American singer-songwriter and satirist, Lehrer’s turn of phrase is spectacular; his satire twisted. Cameron Mackintosh and Robin Ray saw that and adapted Tomfoolery as a full-scale production in London, where it opened in 1980. It featured songs written by Lehrer in the 1950s and ‘60s, notable for their sharp naughtiness.

My favourite remains “The Elements” (music by Sir Arthur Sullivan), which isn’t naughty but is exceedingly clever. In it, Lehrer set the periodic table to the tune of the Major-General’s song from The Pirates of Penzance. The decidedly offbeat “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” features black humour. Political correctness clearly wasn’t Lehrer’s intent.

This pared-down version of the original show also features five songs that were banned during Lehrer’s 1960 Australian tour. He later said it was the highlight of his career.

A quartet of performers – Susan-ann Walker, Michael Dalton, Peter Hurley and Sean Weatherly – star in the show. A frequently used skeleton tribute to Tom Lehrer joins them at times. Theresa Borg directs.

Photo: Kate Arnott

While not all the singing voices are top shelf, it doesn’t really matter. A packed audience on opening night thoroughly appreciated this hoot of a production. How much fun? Heaps, I assure you. Tom Lehrer, take a bow.

Tomfoolery is playing at Gasworks until 22 September 2018.

Alex First

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