BWW Review: CAROL BURNETT AN EVENING OF LAUGHTER AND REFLECTION at Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall
The one and only Miss Carol Burnett graced the stage at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall to a full house of devoted fans representing several generations. Prior to her entrance, the stage was set with a large screen showing Carol poised on a couch, in a beautiful black, lacey dress; behind her the words, "50the Anniversary Special The Carol Burnett Show". Each side of the picture was bejeweled with a streamer of gold pieces. Although this was just a picture, it set the tone for the evening of gold we were about to experience, whose focal point was the iconic legend we have all come to cherish.
As the picture dissolved and the stage faded to black, a series of videos popped up of Carol emulating her famous Tarzan yell. It bellowed throughout the hall as more clips from her show's various opening scenes played on. In one scene an audience member asked where the ladies room was, and Carol had her come to the stage for a crew member to show her the way. Carol carried on with other audience questions until the lady crossed the stage behind her to get back to her seat in the audience. Without skipping a beat, Carol broke into a singsong "we know where you've been, we know where you've been". A well-known audience member who was seen in numerous live-taped shows was an elderly, Sunday bonnet wearing Mrs. Miller. She was known to speak her mind and during an audience Q & A asked Carol who she had to know to get better seats. A lady sitting down front offered to exchange with Mrs. Miller. Carol took time to come into the audience, introduce the women, and make sure Mrs. Miller was comfortable. I have always felt part of what makes up our love for Miss Burnett is her ever-present graciousness.
After the first set of clips, Miss Burnett came out to greet us. In return, Sarasota's welcome was a thunderous round of applause during a long-standing ovation. She was quick to give her co-stars credit for their talent, sense of comedic timing and bonding - to the show and to each other. She said Harvey Korman was "serious about his comedy" and Tim Conway's goal in life was "to destroy Harvey". Another clip showed Harvey in a chair at the dentist's office. Of course Tim was the jester dentist who was ill equipped to handle any patient. As he thumbed through a book on how to numb a patient, he fumbled with the needle many times, numbing his own body in several places. If you have seen this infamous skit, you know what I mean about the hilarious antics that followed. No one keeps a straight face around Tim Conway.
As the house lights went up in order for Carol To see her audience, she opened the floor to any questions the audience wanted to ask. Ushers stood microphone -ready as guests raised their hands. Carol answered questions about if she was able to keep the beautiful gowns Bob Mackie made for the show. She did indeed keep some. In fact he made the stunning sparkling jacking she wore that evening. Always giving credit where credit is due, she shared that Bob created 65 costumes per week for Carol and her co-stars, making a grand total of over 17,000 garments in the show's 11 year run. One question she was asked, if she could choose a celebrity to work with, who would it be. A resounding Meryl Streep was the answer. She further stated "Meryl Streep is a great actress, she sings and is fun".
She spoke lovingly of her dear friend Lucille Ball. Lucy was in the audience for Carol's Broadway premiere in One Upon a Mattress and took the time to visit with her back stage for almost an hour. Lucy used to call her "kid" because of their age difference. Carol told us a great story about how Lucy's husband Desi ran their business and made most of the decisions. When they divorced people found out the kind of hutzpah Lucy had, stepping up to the plate, taking charge and making excellent business decisions. Lucy told Carol, "that when they put the 'S' on my last name". Carol received a bouquet of flowers from Lucy every year on her birthday. The day that Lucy died was Carol's birthday, and she woke up to the sad news that Lucy had passed away. Later that day Carol received her birthday bouquet from Lucy that was lovingly planned ahead of time.
Other answers she shared so openly with the audience was that she wanted to be a journalist but UCLA didn't offer a journalism major. There was a Theater Arts English major that allowed her to take playwriting courses, acting, scenery design, and costuming. She said she was terrified to do the acting piece but something clicked that day when her fellow students loved her piece and laughed in all the right places. Carol assured the audience, "If UCLA did offer a course in journalism and I wasn't forced to take an acting class, I would not be talking with you today".
When asked who makes her laugh, she said there were so many great female comediennes today that she admires, such as Tina Fey, Kate McKinnon and Jane Lynch. She admitted to having a crush on Rod Serling known for his science fiction anthology Twilight Zone television series. When asked to do her Tarzan yell for us in person she told a funny story about it before letting it go. Carol told us of a time she was in the middle of a purchase at a swanky department store and realized she did have cash on her. She asked the clerk if she could write a check but the clerk said she needed some form of ID. The audience laughed because it was obvious who she was. But that wasn't the joke. The funny part was the clerk had to ask the manager if a check was ok without ID and the manager said if she could do her Tarzan yell, she would approve her purchase. Of course she did and drew immediate attention from other shoppers as well as the security guard. Then we got to hear THE YELL live and in person. She still has it!
One gentleman in the audience said singing with Carol was on his bucket list. She asked what he would like to sing. He said, "Row Row Row You're Boat" and she obliged. Asked if she had a character favorite. She claimed she particularly loved playing Eunice on Mama's Family, Mrs. Wiggins and of course her ionic Scarlett O'Hara from the Went With the Wind skit opposite Harvey Korman imitating a perfect Rhett Butler. Miss Burnett enjoyed telling us stories about cast members and guest stars. One fond memory was how she responded to a letter from a fan, Vicki Lawrence, who caught her eye, and as we all know, ended up playing her sister Chrissie on The Carol Burnett Show, and later as her mother on Mama's Family.
We were treated to more clips from her shows with major stars such as Bing Crosby, Ethel Merman, Lucille Ball, Jim Nabors, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, Cher, Sally Field, Carol Channing, Rock Hudson, Bob Hope and many more. You just don't see TV like that anymore. Thank goodness for reruns!
If Miss Burnett's tour comes to a city near you, this is a show you do not want to miss. She is open and honest with her audience, gracious with her time, and quick with her wit and humor. Being in her presence is a warm and loving trip down Memory Lane for all of us who connect her with fond memories of time with our own families, enjoying real belly laughs together.
On a side note, I would like to add that prior to reviewing her show, I was privileged to conduct the interview of a lifetime with her. She asked me to come back stage and meet her after the show. She graciously gave me a big hug and said she really enjoyed our interview and to keep doing what I am doing. Ok Miss Burnett, I'll just keep living up here on Cloud 9.
You can see more of Miss Burnett as she tours the country, catch The Carol Burnett Show reruns on TV, and visit Carol's YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCry6nxAo2tfVyO6lEboiU3w.