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Warren Gerds/Critic at Large: Tom Lehrer-inspired ‘Tomfoolery’ opening in Sturgeon Bay

Critic At Large

Third Avenue Playhouse

Joel Kopischke, from left, Bradley Halverson, Carmen Risi, Ryan Cappleman and director Robert Boles gather for a rehearsal for the Third Avenue Playhouse production of “Tomfoolery.” (Company photo)


Third Avenue Playhouse will present “Tomfoolery,” the words and music of Tom Lehrer, starting with a pay-what-you-can preview at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11.

Performances to Oct. 20 are 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. Info:

When active, Lehrer was a piano-playing humorist with an especially bent sense of humor. This piece from 1980 was adapted by Cameron Mackintosh (who became a big-time producer) and Robin Ray, with musical arrangements by Chris Walker and Robert Fisher. Directing is Robert Boles, co-artistic director of the theater, with Ryan Cappleman as music director and one of the players, along with Bradley Halverson, Joel Kopischke and Carmen Risi.

Sample of Lehrer’s style: “If after hearing my songs just one human being is inspired to say something nasty to a friend or perhaps to strike a loved one it will all have been worth the while.”

Tom Lehrer is age 91 and retired.

According a press release:

Tom Lehrer is ferociously smart, deliciously cynical and brilliant with language and word-play. In concerts, television appearances and a series of now-classic recordings, the Harvard-educated math professor delighted millions of fans during the 1950s and ’60s with his dry and cynical, but good-humored, attacks on the A-bomb, racism, pollution, pornography, the military, the Boy Scouts and mathematics.

Cameron Mackintosh and Robin Ray compiled 28 of Lehrer’s popular songs and added a linking narrative to produce an evening of subtle humorous delights. The resulting show, “Tomfoolery,” premiered in London in 1980 and ran Off Broadway the following year.

Drawing mainly from Lehrer’s greatest years, the includes such favorites as “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park,” “I Hold Your Hand in Mine,” “The Masochism Tango,” “The Old Dope Peddler,” “We Will All Go Together When We Go” and “I Got It from Agnes.”

Additional favorites include “When You Are Old and Grey” and “The Vatican Rag” and a Gilbert and Sullivan-esque recitation of the table of elements, linked together with Lehrer’s concert patter.

The Third Avenue Playhouse production features four performers who sing, dance and play their way through the show: Ryan Cappleman, Bradley Halverson, Joel Kopischke and Carmen Risi.

Ryan Cappleman is a performer, choreographer, music director and teaching artist from Milwaukee. Door County audiences may recognize Cappleman from last year’s “Billy Bishop Goes to War” at Third Avenue Playhouse or “Home for the Holidays” and “Guys and Does” at Northern Sky Theater. His credits at Skylight Music Theatre include Pooh Bah in “The Hot Mikado,” Scarecrow in “The Wizard of Oz,” Woof in “Hair” and choreographing “Hairspray,” “Urinetown,” “Sweeney Todd” and “The Pirates of Penzance.” Other appearances include Danceworks, Optimist Theatre, First Stage, Northbrook Theatre for Young Audiences, In Tandem, Milwaukee Opera Theatre and off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

Bradley Halverson is making his Third Avenue Playhouse debut. Though Chicago based, Bradley was born and raised in Milwaukee and has been coming to Door County since he was small. Recent credits include “Green Bay Tree and Yank: A WWII Love Story” (Pride Films and Plays) and “High Fidelity: The Musical” (Refuge Theatre Project). He has worked with such other Chicago theaters as Drury Lane Oakbrook and Brown Paper Box Co. Halverson earned his BFA from Chicago College of Performing Arts (Roosevelt University).

Joel Kopischke has been performing professionally for more than 40 years on stage, TV and radio and in film. He first appeared on Third Avenue Playhouse’s stage in 2002 in “The Good Doctor” and “Lost in Boston.” Kopischke has performed at Skylight, the MSO, First Stage, Bard & Bourbon, Milwaukee Opera, Melody Top and Northern Sky Theater. He has released two humorous holiday CDs, “I Got Yule, Babe” and “Ground Control to Santa Claus.” Kopischke created (with Alissa Rhode and Eva Nimmer) the musical “Dairy Heirs” that premiered at Northern Sky Theater in 2018 and was repeated this summer.

Carmen Risi was last seen at Third Avenue Playhouse in “Shinbone Alley.” In Milwaukee, she has performed with Skylight Music Theater in “Kiss Me Kate” and “The Hot Mikado.” Her Chicago credits include the Narrator in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” (Citadel Theatre), Sonia in “They’re Playing Our Song” (Brown Paper Box), Allison in “First Date” (Williams Street Rep) and Lana Sherwood in “It’s a Wonderful Life” (Oil Lamp).

Tom Lehrer (songwriter) was a brilliant student who earned his AB in mathematics from Harvard University at age 18 and his master’s degree the next year. He was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa Society and taught at MIT, Harvard and Wellesley. Lehrer started writing funny songs while in college to amuse himself and his friends, though he had no plans to become a musician. His friends encouraged him to record his first album, “Songs by Tom Lehrer,” under his own label Lehrer Records in 1953. Lehrer was a comic paradox who successfully managed two seemingly unrelated careers – one as a mathematician, the other as a musician.

Robert Boles (director) took the role of Third Avenue Playhouse’s co-artistic director in 2011. His directing credits there include “The Subject Was Roses,” “Souvenir,” “The Santaland Diaries,” “Love Letters,” “Greater Tuna,” “This Wonderful Life,” “Talley’s Folly,” “Private Lives,” “Oleanna,’ “Educating Rita,” “Sylvia,’ “A Walk in the Woods,” “Isaac’s Eye,” “The Gin Game,’ “True West,” “Red,’ “Every Brilliant Thing,’ “Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol,’ “Gray’s Anatomy,’ “Lungs” and “Billy Bishop Goes to War.” Acting credits at Third Avenue Playhouse include “The House of Blue Leaves,” “Yuletide Tales” and “The Fantasticks.” For StageKids (Third Avenue Playhouse’s educational outreach program), Boles has directed productions of “columbinus,” “Our Town,” “The Laramie Project,” “Sure Thing,” “Adaptation,’ “Hello Out There” and “The Fifteen Minute Hamlet” – all featuring middle and high school students from throughout Door County.

Boles began his acting and directing career as a founding member of the Arkansas Repertory Theatre. He has since worked in regional theater in just over 30 states from coast to coast. Boles appeared on Broadway in “Footloose” and on its national tour. Off-Broadway, he was in the original casts of “Zombies from The Beyond” (written by James Valcq), “To Feed Their Hopes” (New York and Los Angeles productions) and “Balancing Act” (written and directed by Dan Goggin). On television, Boles has appeared on episodes of “Law and Order,” “The Equalizer” and “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.” He has acted in commercials for Burger King, AT&T and Izuzu Trucks among others. His film appearances include “Ransom,” “The First Wives Club” and “The Royal Tenenbaums.” 

From 2005 to 2011, Boles was the creator and director of the theater program at the University of New Haven in Connecticut. During that time, he also served as the New England regional chair for the national playwriting program of the Kennedy Center American College Theatre Festival.  

Boles is a member of Actors Equity, Dramatists Guild, Society of Directors and Choreographers, and the Screen Actors Guild. He holds degrees in theater from the New School of Social Research (BFA), and Sarah Lawrence College (MFA).

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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