The Remains of Tom Lehrer

Where/when: Guilded Balloon, 15.45

Okay, so a confession. Since the age of ten, when I happened to hear The Element Song used as a plot device on NCIS, I have been obsessed with 60’s musical comic Tom Lehrer. I own books, CDs and vinyl bearing his work. As such, when the chance to see his music performed by Adam Kay (another slight obsession as part of the Amatuer Transplants comedy duo) I couldn’t turn it down.

All of the classic Lehrer songs are there; Poisoning Pigeons, We Will All Go Together, the Vatican Rag, as well as some lesser known ditties such as the poem he used to get into Harvard and some children’s songs. It’s all wonderfully nostalgic, particularly for some of the older members of the audience who no doubt remember Lehrer from his original heyday but there is something somewhat off about it.

 

Lehrer always had a wonderful playfulness in his voice when he sang, something which Kay can’t quite replicate no matter how talented he is on the keys (his piano playing is fantastic). Further, as most, if not all, of the audience is familiar with Lehrer’s work there are few laughs bar the introductions and from the few verses Kay has decided to modernise for the new audience. Lastly, it all seems to be played rather quickly as if listening to a Lehrer cd at 1.5x speed. This is surely to fit in more songs, as a man’s entire back catalogue is a pain to get through in an hours time, but it is still somewhat discombobulating.

 

That is not to say this isn’t an enjoyable show; Kay’s love of the material is clear and his immaculate research means that the introductions and retrospectives are intriguing and insightful into Lehrer’s life. That combined with the joy of hearing the old songs live means that this is still an enjoyable hour of entertainment for any hard-core Lehrer fans, but doesn’t live up to the original and may be a bit confusing for those not familiar with the great man.

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Scott Redmond

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