Tomfoolery | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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TOMFOOLERY, Open Eye Productions, at WNEP Theater. The trenchant rhymes, seductive tunes, and topsy-turvy absurdist reasoning of songwriter Tom Lehrer's wicked lampoons have not been surpassed in 40 years. This hour-long 1980 revue, wittily arranged by Cameron Mackintosh and Robin Ray and warmly staged by Noah Simon, salutes the mordant mathematician and his delicious mockery in 18 sparkling songs, among them such signature spoofs as the hypocrisy-skewering "National Brotherhood Week."

Aaron Graham and Danielle Rhea cavort to "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park," Tony Pinizzotto slinks through the grungily detailed "Masochism Tango," and the cast delivers "The Vatican Rag" as if it were still controversial. Sara Sevigny dourly warbles the phony sentiment of "The Old Dope Peddler" as well as Lehrer's savage slam at the opportunistic Werner von Braun, while Graham tears into "The Elements," a periodic-table laundry list performed to Gilbert and Sullivan.

Penned between 1953 and 1965, these songs have aged well, though Lehrer would probably have come down harder on the south in "I Wanna Go Back to Dixie" had he known how little race relations would change. And we dismiss his attacks on the arms race to our peril. In numbers like "I Got It From Agnes" (about a social disease), "She's My Girl" (a pitiless inventory of the beloved's shortcomings), "So Long, Mom" ("prenostalgia" for World War III), and "The Irish Ballad" (a hilarious takeoff on boring folk songs), Lehrer proves as witty as anything in Forbidden Broadway, and his targets will last a lot longer.

--Lawrence Bommer

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