I’m a big fan of the old Burns and Allen programs on satellite radio. The comedic duo started out on the lower tier of the vaudeville circuit before climbing to the upper echelon of the entertainment industry. Their story is lovingly presented at the Ivoryton Playhouse’s production of Say Goodnight, Gracie, running through November 21.
The one-man show stars Connecticut stalwart R. Bruce Connelly as the ageless George Burns. With the aid of audio and video clips and a healthy offering of humorous asides, Connelly presents the life story of the comedic icon and his equally talented wife.
The play, penned by Rupert Holmes, has as its premise George Burns at the pearly gates auditioning for entry in front of God (Spoiler Alert – he does get in). Connelly, providing a solid Impersonation of the comedian, then launches into a quick-paced, highlight filled review of his life, beginning with Burns’ humble beginnings on New York’s Lower East Side. He regales the audience with tales of his start in show business, the happenstance pairing with Gracie Allen, their lives and career together and, finally, the latter part of his life where, at aged 79, he won an Academy Award for The Sunshine Boys.
R. Bruce Connelly is the ideal George Burns. He displays just the right degree of warmth and conviviality to charm audience members. He delivers jokes with aplomb and in an easy-going manner reminiscent of the famed comedian. The play is not just a series of one-liners and funny schtick. There are a number of poignant moments, delivered by Connelly with a beguiling appeal.
Playwright Rupert Holmes, a man of many talents – he wrote the score to The Mystery of Edwin Drood and had a #1 hit with “The Pina Colada Song” – has crafted a show that is full of emotion, magic and laughter. He skillfully embraces the central points of the pair’s lives that come across in an entertaining manner as opposed to a staid historical recitation.
Director Jacqueline Hubbard has populated the Ivoryton stage with an assortment of props – an armchair here, a table and chair there, a movie screen center stage – to keep the performance on stage from becoming tiresome or tedious. She keeps the tempo relaxed, yet lively.
Say Goodnight, Gracie, a treat for fans of Burns and Allen and a wonderful introduction for individuals unfamiliar with the team’s brilliance. Running through November 21 at the Ivoryton Playhouse.