Toe-tapping and touching music, humor cornball and otherwise filled Edmond Town Hall Theatre Saturday evening, May 18, as The Flagpole Radio Café returned to the stage for the first time in a year to a warm and receptive audience. Musical guest artist singer-songwriter Christine Lavin — a self-described “full-service performer” — conducted a knitting circle with several local knitters before the show and distributed 100 pairs of glass-keepers (plastic devices attached to the earpieces that keep glasses from moving around, a new favorite of hers) while meeting fans and signing autographs afterward, in addition to entertaining the appreciative audience with her humorous, touching and, at times, thought-provoking songs.
For those who have not had the pleasure of attending a Flagpole Radio Café performance, it is a blend of skits by The Flagpole Shakespeare Repertory Theatre (Martin Blanco, also the show’s emcee, Barbara Gaines, David Wheeler, and Kate Katcher), music by the very talented Radio Café Orchestra (led by music director Jim Allyn on keyboard, mandolin, guitar; Rob Bonaccorso, drums; Rick Brodsky, bass; Howie Bujese, fiddle and harmonica; Dick Neil, guitars and banjo; and Francine Wheeler, vocals, keyboard and guitar), and a solo performance by the guest artist, who additionally performs with the regulars.
The evening’s opening skit riffed on a recent oddball local news story, with the two women discussing problems with deer and one offering a solution: urine, which launched into a “commercial” for “Uncle Morty’s Urine Bank” located at 82 Berkshire Road. Other skits portrayed the snobbery of a small town community zoning board member over the style and placement of a mailbox; a student trip to Washington, D.C., with an misinformed guide; and the dilemma of a man who is trying, without success, to please both his wife, and their children, and mother on Mother’s Day.
The most tender moment of the evening came when Ms Wheeler introduced a song written by Dar Williams, which had been performed during The Concert For Hope and Healing at Ridgefield Playhouse in January that included Flagpole Radio Café performers. (Benjamin Wheeler, the son of Francine and David, was among those to lose their lives on 12/14.) She said she loved it and asked Ms Williams if she could sing it, to which Ms Williams replied, “Sure.”
Titled “After All,” it is a love ballad about carrying on after heartbreak. At its conclusion, the audience gave Ms Wheeler a standing ovation.
The Guest Artist
When Christine Lavin appears in concert, the only thing attendees can be sure of is that she will be entertaining and that her quirky sense of humor will make itself known. Accompanying herself on guitar, and introducing her songs with a background story, the words and tone of her lilting voice can take a quick turn from gentle to annoyance or make you laugh or touch your heart with self-recognition. And so it was with her opening number last weekend, “Wind Chimes.” The setting is a quiet beach in Hawaii, with its swaying palms and gentle waves … and the tinkling sound of chimes floating on the wind…
At that point, one of Edmond Town Hall Theatre’s Roxie Girls, in 1920s usherette attire complete with a jauntily angled black pillbox hat, crossed the stage carrying a small set of chimes, shaken at the appropriate times. As the song progressed, three more Roxie Girls came on state, each with a larger set of chimes, creating more annoyance for Ms Lavin, the song ending in a wind chime crescendo.
She also performed her popular audience participation song “New Age Sensitive Guys,” written long ago for NPR, some of the lyrics tweaked to reflect today’s trends, in which male audience members are invited to join her on stage to sing the chorus and follow other instructions. They and some of the Radio Café performers thoroughly enjoyed themselves singing along.
Another signature of a Christine Lavin concert is a humorous song created around an offbeat news story. In the past, one of her most well received was “Planet X,” about Pluto being demoted from a planet, the lyrics were even published in The Pluto Files: The Rise And Fall Of America’s Favorite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson, head of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. Her current news song is “Hardwired,” based on recent social science studies that demonstrate that a person’s place on the Conservative-Liberal political spectrum can be revealed by answers to specific questions.
She has assembled five questions into a song (lyrics can be found on her website, ChristineLavin.com) and audience members are invited to keep track of their responses on their right and left hands — “No peeking at your neighbors’ hands!” she admonished. At the song’s conclusion, she asked for a show of hands for those who had all their responses on one hand; few went up. After a bit more banter and explanation she commended the majority of the moderates in the middle who seek solutions for all.
She also read a chapter from her book Cold Pizza for Breakfast: A Mem-wha? relating her favorite Connecticut story: the time more than a decade ago when she was asked by a friend last minute to fill in as one of the wicked stepsisters in a charity production of Cinderella, and found herself on stage with a cast of A-listers for Paul Newman’s Hole In the Wall Gang. Her first and last acting job, she noted.
The Radio Café Orchestra returned to perform a couple more songs, one including some fabulous banjo pickin’ and fine fiddlin’. The evening concluded with everyone singing a joyous rendition of The Beatles’ “Eight Days A Week” and Ms Lavin and Ms Gaines twirling blue light-ended batons as they marched across the front of the theater and up and down the aisles. Only Ms Lavin, however, did some tossing and catching of her spinning baton.
The Flagpole Radio Café typically performs six shows a season from September through May and hopes to resume that schedule in September. Check the website www.FlagpoleProductions.org for information and photos of past performances.