The Remains of Tom Lehrer at the Ambassador Theatre
Tom Lehrer is perhaps less known these days than he should be. An American comedic singer-song writer, he made a name for himself mostly by writing satirical originals and amusing parodies. In this show, Dr Adam Kay, of The London Underground Song fame, performs a selection of Lehrer’s best works.
It’s a simple set up: Kay and a piano on an otherwise empty stage. Props are kept to a minimum (though used to excellent comedic effect) as Kay plays and walks the audience through Lehrer’s rather fascinating life (including the assertion that he invented vodka jelly.) Many of Lehrer’s songs (Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, I Hold Your Hand in Mine) are timeless, others are still surprisingly relevant today (Pollution, National Brotherhood Week.) For the rest, Kay has reworked them to give them a more modern, or in some cases more British, spin, a process he describes as being “more like the loving restoration of an old car than when they redid Alfie with Jude Law”, and it’s a sentiment that holds true. Kay’s reworking of the songs stays faithful to Lehrer’s black humour and infectious glee while making them far more accessible and relevant to younger audiences.
The setlist contains a good mix of Lehrer’s aforementioned hits, as well as Kay’s own takes on the material, like his own version of The Elements song, rewritten as The Drugs song. Though the performance could have benefitted from a more thorough sound check, Kay performs with gusto and its clear right from the get-go that he relishes the chance to share Lehrer’s genius with the audience, even if he seems to enjoy performing more than his subject ever did; he is a little more aggressive, with a less gentle voice and touch. Throw in a few rounds of audience participation with Lehrer’s L-Y song and what results is a hilarious night out and a fitting tribute to one of America’s oft-forgotten comedic gems.
The Remains of Tom Lehrer was on at the Ambassadors Theatre for one night only on 19th April 2016, for further information about the tour visit here.