Monday, November 3, 2014

Theater Review: Say Goodnight, Gracie -- Ivoryton

R. Bruce Connelly. Photo: Rose Picarelli

One of Connecticut’s Best Portraying One of Hollywood’s Best
By Lauren Yarger
The actor I like to call a gem of Connecticut Theater takes on an entertainment icon when he plays George Burns in Say Goodnight, Gracie.

The one-man show, written by Rupert Holmes, and directed her by Michael McDermott, is a trip down memory lane with Burns, who finds himself “auditioning” for a place in heaven when he lands in a sort of purgatory where his life ( of 100 years) is a command performance for the Almighty.

Moving around on a stage set with a chair, a table and a movie screen where projections bring some of the past images to life, Burns recounts his life, beginning as a young Jewish boy in a New York tenement, delivering papers and singing songs to bring in a few pennies to help support his mother and 11 other siblings after his beloved father dies.

He lands many jobs in show business, but hits it big after teaming up with the love of his life, Gracie Allen. The script combines Burns’ recollections, intimate memories and radio and TV show clips to bring Gracie to life (Marcus Abbott is the lighting designer). Originally, Burns had scripted their routines with Gracie as the “straight man,” but quickly realized that the talented actress, with her trademark voice and dizzy delivery, was the one who would get all the laughs.

We also hear about Burns long-time friendship with Jack Benny and for his ability to make the comedian laugh. It is a nice blend of humor, nostalgia and fine stage craft.

Connelly channels Burns without trying to do an imitation (though he kind of looks like him, thanks to costuming by Kari Crowther). It’s a pleasure to sit back and watch a master at his craft. 

Connelly has been a fixture on Connecticut stages for years, and in fact, played Burns in Say Goodnight, Gracie last year at Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury. At Ivoryton, he recently appeared as Jim in the summer production All Shook Up, Barney Cashman in Last Of The Red Hot Lovers, Max Bialystock in The Producers, Felix Unger in The Odd Couple, Pseudolus in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Finian in Finian's Rainbow.

If you don’t know him from Connecticut stage, you might have caught Connelly as Barkley, Jim Henson's Muppet dog on “Sesame Streetfor which he has been honored 15 times by the National Academy of Television and Radio at the Daytime Emmy Awards, according to a press release.

This Ivoryton production is a delightful wrap-up of the 2013-2014 season. The performance I attended was sold out, so get you tickets quick (and check out next season, which hasn’t been announced officially, but which will include the US premiere of Calendar Girls and the Tony-Award-winner Memphis, according to Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard’s curtain speech.)

Say Goodnight, Gracie runs through Nov. 16 at Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main St., Ivoryton. Performances are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. Tickets $42 for adults, $37 for seniors, $20 for students and $15 for children 860-767-7318; www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

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Lauren Yarger with playwright Alfred Uhry at the Mark Twain House. Photo: Jacques Lamarre)

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