Say, Goodnight Gracie – Review by Brooks Appelbaum

Say Goodnight, Gracie: The Life, Laughter, and Love of George Burns and Gracie Allen is a delightful evening of theater written by Rupert Holmes. Jacqueline Hubbard, the Artistic Director of Ivoryton Playhouse, directs with a sure and unobtrusive hand, and she has cast, as George Burns, one of Ivoryton’s most beloved and accomplished actors: R. Bruce Connelly. Connelly not only looks like Burns, but he has mastered Burns’ mannerisms, warmth, and way with a cigar. For those who grew up with Burns and Allen, on radio or television, the show will be a nostalgic pleasure. For those, like me, who knew very little about the comic duo, the show is not only marvelous fun punctuated by poignant moments, but it’s also a show business education.

Holmes’ premise is that George Burns, having lived his 100 years, has arrived at the gates of Heaven, and even after having played God in three films (or perhaps because of this), he must audition before the great One before he is admitted. This launches Burns into the tale of his remarkable life, beginning with an impoverished childhood on the Lower East Side and moving through his growing success in vaudeville and the chance meeting with a petite, raven-haired Gracie Allen that would change both of their lives forever.

Burns describes his brand of humor as “illogical logic,” and wonderfully, he tells us, Gracie is even better at delivering it than he is. Originally, Burns envisioned Gracie as his straight woman, but he quickly finds out that audiences adore Gracie, and that illogical logic seems to come naturally to her. For instance, to get their act started, all Burns has to do is ask Gracie, “How is your brother?” and she talks for twenty hilarious minutes. Some men might be miffed at being upstaged like this, but Burns–being a gentleman, a confident writer and performer, and, not incidentally, head over heels in love with his comedy partner—is delighted by Gracie’s skill and charm.

Unlike many of their vaudeville friends, whose careers ended with the advent of radio, Burns and Allen seamlessly transition, since their act consists of talking. The same is true when television arrives. Only when Allen decides to retire due to fragile health does Burns go on without her into movies.

Connelly does not impersonate Burns; rather, he captures the essence of the man and conveys his way with humor, his winking connection with the audience, and, above all, his respect and love for Gracie. It’s one of the most endearing performances you may see this season.

Hubbard is helped in her fine directing by Elizabeth A. Saylor, who has designed Connelly’s costume; Martin Scott Marchitto, who has created the simple but effective set; Marcus Abbott, who has lit the show, and Tate R. Burmeister, who has provided the sound. Projections show us the beautiful Gracie, and between Burns’ and Allen’s humor and their love, God’s heart, like ours, must melt.

I urge you to catch Say Goodnight, Gracie before it closes on Sunday, November 21st. The show, and especially Connelly’s performance, will blow away any incipient winter blues you may have. You may also find yourselves seeking out the original duo to feel the sunshine of their “illogical logic” and bask in the buoyant affection that made them, not only funny, but wonderful company as well.

For tickets ($55, senior $50, student $25), call the Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, Ivoryton at 860-767-7318 or go online for information to www.ivorytonplayhouse.org. Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Wednesday and Sunday at 2 p.m. Bring your vaccination card and a mask. You will need the mask entering, leaving, and walking around the theatre; during the show you are permitted to remove it. You will be socially distanced for this 90-minute show without intermission.

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