The Remains of Tom Lehrer

Adam Kay
Ambassadors Theatre

The Remains of Tom Lehrer

Tom Lehrer’s parodies of popular songs and their lyrics, often with a sharp political edge, amused and gave encouragement to thousands weighed down by or struggling against the establishment of the 1950s and the 1960s.

Adam Kay opens his show The Remains of Tom Lehrer with a jaunty song about nuclear annihilation in which we are given the good news that when the bomb drops "We will all go together when we go". It is typical of the sardonic humour of Lehrer’s songs.

Between songs, Adam Kay tells entertaining anecdotes about Lehrer’s life from his admission to Harvard at the age of fifteen to his later decision to stop writing songs with the words, "I often feel like a resident of Pompeii who has been asked for some humorous comments on lava."

Some of the songs are updated or changed to make them more local. "The Subway Song" about Boston is turned into one about the Piccadilly line in London.

The song entitled "Ly", originally written for the children’s television show The Electric Company, is playfully repeated throughout the evening as a way of getting the audience to join in.

There would be a question in each verse which the audience would answer with a word ending in "ly". Thus to the question, "How do you act so they don’t know you’re a spy" the audience would respond by singing the word "normally". One of Adam Kay’s additional verses to this song asked the question, "How do you edit a Daily Mail article?" to which we would answer with the word "spitefully".

Another song that made many appearances was Lehrer’s song of "The Elements" which lists very quickly over a hundred chemical elements. Kay also gave us his versions of the song. In one he lists all the British Prime Ministers and in another all the drugs prescribed in hospitals.

The show is fun but it does not have the slick cutting sharpness of Lehrer’s delivery. There was also a tendency in this performance for the piano to drown out the words and for the microphone to slightly distort what was being sung.

Adam Kay makes the point that what was at one time explosively controversial about Lehrer’s music might no longer always have the same impact. Unfortunately in this production it is the gentleness of the delivery which makes Lehrer’s music seem safe and less engaged with the world.

Reviewer: Keith Mckenna

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