"Every possible expense was spared" in the production of "Tomfoolery" at Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater, as the cast boasts. No new songs were commissioned from the author, Tom Lehrer, who was not flown in from California, where he appears regularly in Santa Cruz mathematics classes. It consists, in other words, of the same songs you have on your records, only not sung by the author. The review-revue, songs from old records done live for audiences who knew the words before some of the singers were born, is an increasingly popular form of small-theater entertainment. And it is cozy to sit among other veteran fans, anticipating favorite lines but nevertheless laughing when they arrive. (In theory, the theater is also open to people who will turn to one another and say, "Who is this writer, anyway, and who is that Helen Gahagan he rhymes with Ronald Reagan?" but it seems unlikely.) You can achieve the same effect in your living room, of course, but you'd probably have to provide snacks. The songs, about pollution, the Vatican, drugs, nuclear warfare, VD and bigotry, have not dated, except for a few proper names. If anything, it makes one realize how little progress there has been in such fields as vulgarity since the Fifties and Sixties. They are performed by Terrence Currier, Timothy Jerome, Ellen March and Eric Weitz, some as solos and some as small skits with bits of acting and dancing, with a five- person on-stage orchestra. Generally, they do good service, but there are many instances in which effort, along with expense, ought to have been spared. Lehrer's style is sardonic humor, with the most intricately crafted lines thrown out quickly -- one reason people listen to them over and over, and buy them in book form. One of the best-delivered songs of the evening was "The Old Dope Peddler," sung by the pianist, who kept his back to the audience, hardly moving his face or raising his voice. In contrast, March, knocking herself out to point up the humor of "In Old Mexico," produced no laughs even from a sympathetic first-night audience. This is, after all, the graduate seminar, and it's not necessary to brighten up the material to make it interesting.
TOMFOOLERY -- At the Kreeger through January 31.