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A CurtainUp Review
Say Goodnight, Gracie: The Love, Laughter and Life of George Burns
Gracie, didn't you say you were going to fly to Dublin and visit your cousin?
Yes, but when I was driving to the airport I saw a sign that said 'Airport -- Left' so I turned around and went home.

--- an example of a typical Burns and Allen interchange relying on Gracie's "illogical logic" to send the laugh meter soaring.
Frank Gorshin as George Burns
Frank Gorshin as George Burns
(Photo: Carol Rosegg )
The life of George Burns spanned a century awash in momentous events and changes. In Rupert Holmes' Say Good Night Gracie, neither World War One or Two gets so much as a mention. It's a sugar rich confection, heavily laced with nostalgia and laughs.

In Frank Gorshin, the show is also blessed with a narrator who's the next best thing to having Burns actually come back for a visit from the Great Beyond that's been his home since 1996. Of course, if you look closely, even with Burns' trademark glasses and ever present cigar, Frank Gorshin really doesn't look like Burns, but skilled impersonator that he is, he has so precisely nailed the persona --the shuffling walk and facial gestures, and most important, the impeccable timing -- that when the curtain comes down you're not sure whether you're applauding Gorshin or Burns.

Burns was a very funny man, but his wife Gracie Allen, who started out as his straight man turned out to be even funnier so that Burns smartly cast himself as the one to feed the lines to her. And while it's Burns, a.k.a. Gorshin, who's center stage, it's still Gracie with her "illogical logic" who has the audience laughing most often and loudest.

Director John Tillinger has dressed up Holmes' material (familiar even to younger audience members via Burns' very public last years playing God in the movies and publishing books and CDs) with bits and pieces from Burns and Allen's radio shows (Didi Conn as the voice of Gracie) and clips from their equally successful TV and film careers. But, because Burns was so successful at making Gracie the star of the joint enterprise that survived no matter what new medium became fashionable, Say Goodnight Gracie without Gracie is like a day at the beach without quite enough sunshine. Still, this is an endearing ode -- to Gracie and to life fully lived even when you're in your nineties.

While the 90-minute play takes us through the entire 100 years of Burns 's life, Gorshin plays him as an old man throughout, leaving it to the film clips to let us see what he looked like in his younger days. Playwright Holmes jumpstarts the classic rags to riches story by having Burns emerge from a cloud to make a case for being allowed to join Gracie in Heaven. His apology for possibly displeasing the Heavenly Maker with his three famous movie portrayals of God, is the lead-in to the joke-interspersed journey from the Lower East Side, to vaudeville, to radio, television and Hollywood. The design elements, especially the lighting and projections, help to create a play-like aura for these reminiscences.

George and Gracie were household words from 1932 to 1958 and some of Gracies's sayings like "I bet you say that to all the girls" becoming part of the American idiom. The story would be more interesting with a bit more insight into the working process that built their legend. The humor is hardly timeless. In fact, it's the utter predictability of it that makes you laugh. But be that as it may, this isn't about George Burns the comedian but a quite heart-warming tribute to life, laughter and love.

Say Goodnight, Gracie: The Love, Laughter and Life of George Burns
Written by Rupert Holmes
Directed by John Tillinger
Cast: Frank Gorshin, and the voice of Didi Conn as Gracie Allen
Set Design: John Lee Beatty
Lighting Design: Howard Werner
Sound Design: Kevin Lacy
Multimedia Design: Howard Werner & Peter Nigrini
Running time: 90 minutes without intermission
Helen Hayes, 240 W. 44th St., (7th/8th Aves.) 212/ 239-6200.
. From 9/17/02; opening 10/10/02
Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8PM with matinees on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2PM and Sundays at 3PM -- $60 to $65 (plus a $1.50 facility charge.)
Reviewed by Elyse Sommer based on performance. Last Broadway performance 8/24/03 to be followed by national tour.
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