Ivoryton Remembers a Famous Comedy Team and a Love Story in ‘Say Goodnight, Gracie’

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say goodnight 1By Karen Isaacs

R. Bruce Connelly does not look like George Burns — he is a little too short and less svelte than Burn’s image from the 1950s TV sitcom he did with his wife, Gracie Allen.

Yet, he is a convincing George Burns in Ivoryton Playhouse’s production of Say Goodnight, Gracie which is running through November 16.

The play which is written by Rupert Holmes from Burns’ reminiscences ran on Broadway with the gifted actor/ impressionist Frank Gorshin in the lead.

Like many one-actor shows, there are some awkward moments — telephone calls that seem unnecessary but allow the character to relate some information to us.

Even the premise of the show seems at times awkward.  Burns supposedly has died and God has asked him to “audition” by telling his life story before he is admitted to heaven. This leads immediately to some jokes since Burns played God in the Oh God films.

But from there, Burns recounts his life — from the East Side tenement where he and his numerous brothers and sisters lived in three rooms, his father’s death when George was still a child and his attempts to earn money for the family — from selling newspapers and shining shoes to singing in a quartet.

From there it was on to vaudeville where Burns admits he was not a star. He bounced from partner to partner, from singing, to dancing, to sketches before he met Gracie Allen –who was a back-up singer/dancer in a vaudeville act.

The rest, as it could said, is history.  At first, Gracie was supposedly the “straight woman” lobbing set up lines for George’s gags. But he realized that her delivery even of these non-humorous lines were funnier to audiences then his gags. So the roles were reversed: Gracie was the ditzy woman displaying what George called “illogical logic” and George fed her set-up lines and reacted to her illogic.

A running gag in the show is that all George had to do is ask Gracie about her brother, and she could talk for twenty minutes.

Photos by Rose Picarelli
Photos by Rose Picarelli

They became a success in vaudeville, moved on to short films then features, radio and then television before Gracie retired and later died in 1964.

From there Burns recounts his stalled career until his reemergence in the film, The Sunshine Boys,— a role that Jack Benny was to have played but was diagnosed with cancer — and then other films, nightclub and TV appearances until he was almost 100 years old.

Part of the charm of this show is the use of projections of the couple throughout the years and the voice of Gracie Allen from various performances.  (By the way, in the original Broadway production, Didi Conn did Allen’s voice).

Connelly does a good job of channeling Burns voice, gestures, facial expression and mannerisms. He is aided by outstanding make-up and a toupee that is spot on.

Scenic designer Daniel Nischan has created a functional and comfortable set with several distinct playing areas.

Michael McDermott’s direction helps the play to move at a comfortable pace and also create interest through Burns’ movements about the set.

Say Goodnight, Gracie is an enjoyable 75 minutes of comedy and remembrances though the younger members of the audience may have no idea of Burns and Allen or the other people to whom Burns refers.  It may encourage them to become acquainted with the legends of show business in the 20th century.

Say Goodnight, Gracie  is at the Ivoryton Playhouse through Nov. 16. For tickets and information contact the Playhouse at 860-767-7318 or online at http://www.ivorytonplayhouse.org.

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