Entertainers come and go. George Burns’ career spanned most of the 20th century.
He began as a child singing barbershop quartet, moved on to vaudeville, then to radio, television and finally movies. He performed regularly through his golden years and died at age 100 in 1996.
“Say Goodnight Gracie,” a sentimental one-man show performed by Don McArt at the Gallo Center for the Arts, hits the highlights of his life, paying special attention to his marriage and partnership with Gracie Allen.
Written by Rupert Holmes, the show won a 2003 Tony Award nomination for best play when Frank Gorshin (the Riddler on the “Batman” TV series) played the part on Broadway.
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McArt looks and acts a lot like Burns and performs with cigar in hand just like the comedian used to do. He talks directly to the audience, moving back and forth between three settings — a table for two, a park bench and an easy chair by a phone.
We hear about his poor upbringing in New York with 11 brothers and sisters, the early death of his father, his romantic courtship of Allen, his close friendship with Jack Benny and his Academy Award.
McArt also performs some of Burns’ comedy routines with Allen, with her part played by the recorded voice of Didi Conn (Frenchy in “Grease”).
Though McArt is a decent storyteller, he doesn’t have Burns’ charisma or comic flair. He sometimes has a hard time selling the old fashioned jokes (i.e. “I’m was so smart in school that I had the same teacher five years.”). At Friday’s opening night performance, some of the jokes fell flat and he had to repeat them to get laughs.
The best part of the show is seeing the vintage photos and film footage of Burns and Allen’s television and movie work. Burns was in his 70s when I was born and Allen was already dead (she died in 1964) so it was a pleasure for me to see what they could do in their prime.
How much you appreciate the show will depend on how much you relate to Burns and his era. The mostly gray-haired crowd on opening night gave it a standing ovation.
Bee arts writer Lisa Millegan can be reached at 578-2313 or firstname.lastname@example.org.