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'Tomfoolery' Brings Vintage Lehrer to Stage

Comedy Tonight troupe will perform a revue of the famed satirist's songs at the Arts Council Center in Thousand Oaks.


Taste-challenging songs including "The Masochism Tango," "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" and "The Old Dope Peddler," first released in the Eisenhower era, gained Tom Lehrer a reputation as an underground humorist of the first order.

Broadcast personality and novelty record authority Barrett "Dr. Demento" Hansen calls Lehrer "the most brilliant musical satirist ever to have made records."

In the late '70s, young British entrepreneur Cameron Mackintosh mounted a revue of Lehrer's songs, which by then included several numbers written for the satiric American TV series, "That Was the Week That Was." This weekend, the Comedy Tonight company launches a local production of that show, "Tomfoolery."

Lehrer's reputation began, he explained in a recent interview, when he was a graduate student at Harvard, teaching part-time.

"I was singing the songs for my friends, and asked around to see who might be interested in buying a copy. I figured that if I could sell about 300, I could break even. My first album cost me $15 to record, plus the cost of pressing the records and printing the jackets."

Released in 1953, "Songs by Tom Lehrer" soon began to sell around the country, as "people started taking them home at summer vacation." By the time Lehrer transferred his catalog to Warner Bros. in the mid-'60s, more than 350,000 copies of the four albums had been sold on his own label.

Lehrer seldom performed live. "You have to have the temperament of a performer to go out every night and do the same thing, which I couldn't, " he said. "Once I got a song right enough to make a record, that was it."

But he continued to write material for outlets including the public television series "The Electric Company." Three of his albums are in print on the Warner Bros. label; "That Was the Year That Was," issued in 1965, has just been certified as a Gold Record, indicating sales of more than half a million copies. Rhino Records plans to issue two more vintage Lehrer albums, with bonus tracks, next year.

Lehrer, now in his late 60s, divides his time between Cambridge, Mass., and Northern California, where he teaches mathematics to non-mathematicians at UC Santa Cruz. His music continues to reach new listeners.

He credits play on outlets such as Demento's syndicated radio program (heard locally on KXBS-FM from 8-10 a.m. Sundays) and by "kids rummaging in their parents' record collections. That," he said, "has helped a lot."

* "Tomfoolery" opens Friday and continues through Nov. 30 at the Arts Council Center, 482 Greenmeadow Ave. (off Moorpark Road) in Thousand Oaks. Performances are at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Nov. 17 and 24 only. Tickets are $10, $9 for seniors and students except Friday night, when all seats are $14. For reservations (highly recommended, it's a small theater) or further information, call 389-3193.

* At 8 p.m. Nov. 27-28 and Dec. 4-5 only, the show moves to the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 E. Los Angeles Ave., Simi Valley. Tickets for those performances are $12, adults; $10, students and seniors. For reservations or further information, call 389-3193.


Charlie Brown: The year's second local production of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" concludes this weekend at Cal Lutheran University.

Certain pluses and minuses characterize any mounting of "Charlie Brown." While there's a lot of nostalgic appeal to fans of Charles M. Schulz's revered comic strip, one may find one's capacity for whimsy strained to the limit, and the best thing about Clark Gesner's music and lyrics is that they're inoffensive.

That said, Tony Gardner is quite fine as Charlie Brown, Matt Powell capably handles the showcase role of Snoopy, and Rachel Oliveros-Larsen turns in a remarkable recreation of crabby, pushy Lucy.

Other roles are nicely enough handled, though it's somewhat disconcerting to see Linus portrayed, by Harry Garland, in the long, straight blond hair and baggy pants of a skateboarder. Faculty member Barbara Wegher-Thompson directed; musical director Diann Alexander and keyboardist Kevin Parcher are familiar names, and welcome presences, to local theater fans.

* "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" concludes Sunday at Cal Lutheran University's Preus-Brandt Forum, 60 W. Olsen Road (adjacent to the chapel), Thousand Oaks. Performances are at 9 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday. Admission is $8. At 11:30 Sunday, a "Charlie Brown Picnic" will be held at the CLU Pavilion; a fee of $15, adults, and $12, children, includes lunch by Marriott Food Services, and admission to the play. For reservations to any performance or further information, call 493-3410.


Casting Call: Auditions for Arthur Miller's "All My Sons" will be held at 2:30 p.m. Sunday and 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at Conejo Players' Theater, 351 S. Moorpark Road, Thousand Oaks. Those trying out should prepare a monologue of three minutes maximum. For information, call Dayne Jervis at 499-3912, or Lucien Jervis at 483-0715, Ext. 122.

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