During intermission Saturday night, Jay Lucas said he had come all the way from Alexandria to Herndon in the snow in order to see the Elden Street Players’ version of “Tomfoolery.”
“I came from the generation that idolized Tom Lehrer, so I am enjoying the play,” he said. “He expressed our view of the world.” Lehrer’s sarcastic and sometimes even shocking world view led him to win fans like Lucas with his musical satires, which Lehrer wrote, recorded and performed during the 1950s and ’60s.
Lucas is not the only one who still enjoys them. Artistic director Angie Anderson said, “I am not sure I realized the popularity of Tom Lehrer until we decided to do ‘Tomfoolery,’ and all of a sudden I was hearing from everyone I spoke to, that they were looking forward to this show.”
If so, they could not have been disappointed. The five-member cast sings and dances enthusiastically to 25 of Lehrer’s greatest hits, beginning when they march onto the stage with a sprightly version of “Be Prepared … That’s the Boy Scouts Marching Song.” Musical director Tom Fuller’s equally peppy piano set toes to tapping throughout the theater.
The piece is typical vintage Lehrer, with Matthew Scarborough earnestly warning his fellow Scouts against the dangers of drug use by singing, “Keep those reefers hidden where you’re sure that they will not be found.”
This same irreverence soars through all Lehrer’s ditties, most notably “The Vatican Rag.” Garbed as nuns, the ensemble gives instruction by singing, “First you get down on your knees, fiddle with your rosaries.”
In both her group and solo numbers, Becca Harney performs with a special verve. Caroline Simpson brings an additional talent to the scene, as she toe dances with grace and elegance through Matt Williams’ impersonation of Wernher von Braun.
Playing the American rocket scientist who had performed the same service for der Fuhrer, Williams gives Wernher a memorable musical defense: “Once the rockets go up, who cares where they come down? Nazi, schmazi, says Wernher von Braun.” (This led to the untrue urban legend that von Braun had successfully sued the sarcastic songwriter).
Moose Thompson shows the same deadpan wit, in numbers like “My Home Town.” With a great show of nostalgia, he praises his math teacher by singing, “After school he sold the most amazing pictures.”
This scene takes place in a tavern, where Moose plays a bartender, pouring wine for the stunned patrons. Their expressions make it clear what those pictures show.
That bar is used for other settings, as well, thanks to the imaginative set designer, Ian Mark Brown. At one point, it becomes a desk. Brown also makes a memorable contribution with his rear screen projections, including a Confederate flag for “I Wanna Go Back to Dixie.”
Becca and Caroline obligingly wear Confederate caps for this number, before donning World War II pilots’ headgear for another spirited pseudo-patriotic piece, “So Long Mom, I’m off to drop the bomb, so don’t wait up for me.”
Created by Farrel Ann Hartigan, the show’s clever costumes also include Becca’s slinky black gown and red feather boa, for her torch song lamenting the fate of “Oedipus Rex … who LOVED his mother.”
Showing the same antiwar spirit as “So Long Mom,” the evening ends with “We Will All Go Together,” illustrated by an exploding atom bomb. North Korea’s nuclear threats have made this piece all too relevant all over again, even though the scenes were set in 1963.
Director Adriana Hardy explained that the costumes, props, dancing and acting were all employed to keep the production from being an all-singing cabaret show. At the same time, she recalled, “One of the reasons why we chose this show is it is smaller and more intimate, and more like a cabaret show than a big musical.” The stadium seating and comfortable chairs help the entire audience enjoy the fun.