Review: ‘Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett-A Conversation Where the Audience Asks the Questions’ at Strathmore

Comedienne extraordinaire Carol Burnett brought her distinctive and legendary persona to the Music Center at Strathmore last night and the audience responded with glee and deserved appreciation.

Carol Burnett. Photo courtesy of Strathmore.
Carol Burnett. Photo courtesy of Strathmore.

Burnett’s ninety-minute presentation was like Ms. Burnett herself—-amusing, creative, and –most importantly, unpretentious and “down –to –earth” in spirit. Burnett is the last of a dying breed —-she is authentically funny and a creator of a unique gallery of comic characters that are universally appealing to any generation. Burnett never resorts to the sarcastic, glib, topical comedic approach so prevalent amongst some of our current crop of comediennes.

Burnett’s “question and answer” format was effectively incorporated with an assortment of excellent film clips from her long-running, Emmy Award-winning eleven-year television variety show (these images were projected on a very wide screen that hung down from the center stage behind Ms. Burnett).

It was obvious that Ms. Burnett took the sincere and enthusiastic questions from the audience (ranging from “What was the origin of the Tarzan yell?” to “Did you have obstacles as a woman starring in your own television show?”) as a “jumping-off “point to entertain with her own highly personal stories and anecdotes and tales of amusing moments from her very well-seasoned life (examples of Burnett’s amusing stories coming up after a few more paragraphs, folks!).

Burnett’s singular yet universal appeal derives from her absolutely astounding ability to command attention with “larger-than-life” grand and physically authoritative gestures combined with specific acting choices that coalesce into comedic unity and perfection. (The only other comediennes that come to mind in  Burnett’s league today would perhaps be Lilly Tomlin or Bette Midler in her most bawdy element).  Burnett is the deserving comedic heir of the great comedic giants that preceded her such as Lucille Ball (her personal comedic mentor), Imogene Coca, Beatrice Lillie, Martha Raye, and Carol Channing.

As a young teenager I remember sitting around the television set every single Saturday night with my family watching The Carol Burnett Show and it was a staple in our household for all of its eleven-year run. Concurrently, my partner informs me that he and his friends would never “hit the bars” in San Francisco until the show had concluded each Saturday night. Indeed, Burnett’s show appeals to all demographics!

Amidst Burnett’s hilarious anecdotes and stories, there were several wonderful montages from her long-running series. The first such montage was one that portrayed Burnett’s totally unself-conscious and relaxed style of answering questions at the beginning of each of her Saturday night shows (much in evidence at this Strathmore event).

The second film clips montage portrayed the vast variety of musical performers that Burnett sang duets with.  What a grand cavalcade of talent was presented here—Burnet was shown singing with Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman, Ella Fitzgerald, Liza Minnelli, the Carpenters, and Perry Como (among others).

The third montage associated with Burnett highlighted parodies and spoofs from the “Golden Age” of the large studio system. Iconic films that were spoofed included Sunset Boulevard, Love Story (hilariously re-titled as Loverly Story with Carol as the Ali McGraw character), Pillow Talk (wittily retitled as Pillow Squawk with Burnett appealingly goofy as Doris Day) and the most memorable Went with the Wind (an obvious spoof of Gone with the Wind). Many people consider the latter parody to contain the foremost sight gag in the history of television —namely, Burnett wearing the dark green outfit (created from her window treatment!) that had an actual curtain rod running across her shoulders. Burnett credited famed Costume Designer Bob Mackie here and, at other moments, with much of the success of her show– for Mr. Mackie had designed approximately 17,000 costumes for her television variety show.

A concluding montage of special guests included such talents as Emmett Kelly, Jonathan Winters, Bob Hope, Mel Torme, Maggie Smith, Andy Griffith, Sally Field, Lily Tomlin, Tony Randall, Jim Nabors, and Roddy McDowall, among many others!

Ms. Burnett is a very generous professional and throughout the evening, Ms. Burnett most graciously praised the talents of regulars Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, and Vicki Lawrence repeatedly.

Now, onwards to a sampling of some of Ms. Burnett’s prime narrative vignettes:

  • Once when Ms. Burnett did not have her wallet and ID with her when purchasing stockings at Bergdorf-Goodman, her very identity was questioned. A clerk came over and asked here to prove she was indeed the illustrious Burnett by asking her to scream out her famed Tarzan yell.
  • Once when staying at a hotel in Washington, DC (a performance event was to be held for President Lyndon Johnson), Julie Andrews was staying at the same hotel and Julie cajoled Carol into intimately hugging her when Mike Nichols stepped off of the elevator in order to shock and amuse him. However, as both women were embracing, Lady Byrd Johnson saw them instead!
  • Lucille Ball had to speak toughly once in order to get a script corrected that was not “up-to-par.” Lucy took Carol aside and said that this was an example of how she got an “S” added to her last name!
  • Vicki Lawrence wrote Carol a fan letter including news about her background and upcoming “Miss Fireball” contest; Lawrence also commented on their physical resemblance. Since Burnett and her production team were looking for somebody to play Burnett’s sister in the upcoming variety series —a very pregnant Burnett traveled to see Lawrence win her contest.
  • When asked if she preferred Theatre, film or television, Burnett responded that she prefers television variety as you can sing a different song and/or perform a different character every week without repeating yourself!

Carol Burnett is truly the “real thing” in a world of comic glibness and her universal appeal cannot and will not ever be diminished. As this evening’s production and her long success prove, Carol Burnett is a truly beloved comedienne that almost everyone loves—- but her astounding innate talent makes one, concurrently, ask in awe: “Is there anybody else quite like her?”

Running Time: 90 minutes, with no intermission.

Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett-A Conversation Where the Audience Asks the Questions was presented on Saturday, April 16, 2016 at 8 PM at The Music Center at Strathmore – 5301 Tuckerman Lane, in North Bethesda, MD. For further information on Strathmore events go to their website.

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David Friscic
David has always had a passionate interest in the arts from acting in professional dinner theatre and community theatre to reviewing film and local theatre in college to making numerous treks to New York City to indulge his interest in live theatre. An enthusiastic interest in writing has shown itself in a BA in English/Education and an MA in English Literature. Taken together, these two interests have culminated in the logical conclusion of writing for an arts blog. David moved up and down the East Coast due to his father's job at General Electric and this has helped him to perceive the world in a very open way. After his schooling, David taught in Catholic school systems for awhile and, then, spent three years in the seminary with two years at Catholic University studying Theology and one year in a practicuum working at a church in New York State. David currently works at the National Science Foundation as a Technical Information Specialist for the Office of Polar Programs and has had the great opportunity to go to Antarctica twice and Greenland once in support of the research community. He enjoys living in Bethesda and has taken courses at the Writer's Center. David enjoys swimming, traveling, reading, and working on committees at his condo. His major interest, however, is the arts and all it encompasses---from symphony, to film, to museum treks to live theatre. He counts having lunch with Lillian Gish and meeting Lily Tomlin, Geraldine Page, Maureen Stapleton, Liza Minnelli and Sandy Dennis as some of the more exciting encounters of his life.


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