From the moment he bounds on stage in tuxedo and leopard-spot cummerbund and sneakers, gets his hands all over the piano, fondles a microphone and breaks into "I Want to Sleep With Each and Every One of Yooooo . . . ," (a song delivered with his back to us and aimed at an imaginary audience beyond footlights lining the back wall of the stage), we know we're in for it: a topsy-turvy evening with a zany.
What's so new about that? Only that pianist/comedian/singer Dale Gonyea ("rhymes with Grand Marnier") goes in for a curious deviance. He's a self-avowed pianosexual who once fell in love with a spinet on "I Love Lucy" and has never been the same since.
In his new show that opened Tuesday at the Canon Theatre, "A 12 O'Clock Guy in a 9 O'Clock Town," the kinkiness extends, among other things, to executing a pas de deux with a baby grand (choreography by Toni Kaye).
Calling Gonyea's show "new," however, may be stretching the point. He's been at this a while. A lot of his material (\o7 materiel\f7 ?) has been used before. The title changes, but the standards remain the same. Gonyea began playing piano at 5 (the age, not the time), but his adult career has been going for better than a dozen years, though you'd never know it. One of his great charms is that he looks and behaves like a giddy kid.
It's not the first time, for instance, that we've met his mother, even if he \o7 still \f7 claims "Nobody Knows Shirley Gonyea," that ordinary Michigan housewife with nine children--"three of each kind." We've also met his Dad who "can beat up your dad, but he wouldn't."
And we meet him as he once was. With a conspiratorial smile in his playful eyes, the curly-haired Gonyea displays a giant, jug-eared photo of himself as a boy of 10 and asks, "Do you have \o7 any \f7 idea what it's like growing up in the '50s looking like Beaver Cleaver with the same first name as Roy Rogers' \o7 wife\f7 ?" No wonder he has a phobia about turning into his parents and wails about it on cue ("Help! I'm Turning Into My Parents").
It's all part of the act in which Gonyea demonstrates a superior talent at the keyboard, coupled with the ability to think on his feet, neutralize religion (his church is Our Lady of Eternal Guilt), appropriate other people's melodies for satirical purposes ("Don't Cry for Me Philippinos," as a lampoon of Imelda Marcos' shoe fetish) or merely to invest them with whimsical perversity. (It wasn't what Lerner and Loewe had in mind when they wrote "My Fair Lady," but try "People stop and stare/ They don't bother me./ Could it be because/ I had a lobotomy?")
Clearly, Gonyea is the rightful if unintentional heir to the piano-comedy throne so long held by Victor Borge--only young, buoyantly American, unabashedly self-centered and armed with a contemporary field of reference--much of it local. He does a great "L.A." song and asks if you've ever spent "Christmas in Beverly Hills," where "you don't shovel snow, you sniff it instead./ That's how Rudolf's nose got red."
Anyone this facile with words is bound to indulge in puns, and one of Gonyea's best oldies is a clever song entirely made up of celebrity names ("What makes Bobby Short and Alice Faye? . . . Is Glenn Close and who gave Mary Tyler Moore? . . . "). The celebrities get updated; the idea remains the same.
Although Gonyea ultimately \o7 is \f7 the show, he doesn't do it alone. Smartly, he's backed himself by performers as talented in their own way as he is in his: musicians Miranda Alcott (bass), John Boswell (keyboards) and Ken Elliott (drums)--and, notably, a terrific deadpan comedienne named Nancy Scher portraying the definitive barfly, Irma. The appearance, in the final moments, of the Our Lady of Canon Concert Choir--another gag--comes too late and pales by comparison.
Despite an occasional wickedness, Gonyea is benign--a lamb who embraces rather than bullies an audience. In a rare moment of semi-seriousness, he sings a semi-serious song about wanting, "one time, before the game is done," to play Carnegie Hall. Why not? Carnegie Hall deserves him. He'd light up--and lighten up--the joint.
Performances at 205 N. Canon Drive in Beverly Hills run Tuesdays only, 8:30 p.m., until Oct. 28. (That other comedian, Jackie Mason, is there the rest of the week.)
Additional performances also run this Friday and Saturday (Rosh Hashanah) at 8:30 p.m., Sunday at 2:30 p.m. A special pair of Columbus Day performances will take place Oct. 12 at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $12.50 (213-859-2644 or 213-480-3232).