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Lily Tomlin at the State Theatre: Still makin' 'em laugh
It's Agnes! It's Ernestine! It's Lucille! Yes it is. And even more when you're lucky enough to catch the many personalities brought to life during "An Evening of Classic Lily Tomlin." Tomlin's tour stopped at the historic State Theatre last weekend after performances in Illinois, Kansas, and Wisconsin, but before California, Australia and beyond (including Biloxi, Mississippi's Hard Rock Cafe). ¡Olé!
Tomlin is a legend now, which means she's lasted in show business much longer than many of her colleagues, and she's outlived a few, too. People in their 40s grew up watching her on Laugh-In or seeing her in the working-girl extravaganza 9 to 5 alongside Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton. If you're younger than 40, hopefully you at least have caught her voice on The Simpsons reruns or seen her in Desperate Housewives, Will and Grace, or hometown favorite A Prairie Home Companion. Tomlin reminded the audience about her "legendness" on occasion (in a humorous way, of course), giving props where they were due—including nods to Madeline Kahn and Richard Pryor, among others. Throughout the performance I never even thought of what her age must be, but doing research for this review I discovered she was born in Detroit in 1939. You do the math. Yeah, I couldn't believe it either.
On this unseasonably warm night in Minneapolis, she bounded onstage like a cheerleader ... leaping and jumping. A giant slide show screen would drop down on occasion, and for the opening shot, we were treated to a young Lily (Mary Jean) as a cheerleader in her school-age years. We learned about her pals, and the stories began. A few theatrical trailers followed, reminding us of some of her more costumed characters (better suited to play in Vegas) like Tommy Velour and Agnus Angst (sic).
With a simple turn and a sound effect or two (sometimes a second or two late!), we were treated to Trudy, the homeless genius who per Tomlin's Web site once said "It's my belief we all secretly ask ourselves at one time or another, 'Am I crazy?' In my case, the answer came back a resounding 'Yes.'" Then there was Edith Ann, sans rocking chair, who brilliantly updated us on childhood antics with iPhones and apps, cell phones and texting. And that's the truth!
A ringy-dingy or two later brought us Ernestine the Operator. She has a new career as a claims adjuster for a health insurance conglomerate. No policy detail was spared as her cutting-edge, timely wit infiltrated her going over insurance coverage (not) with a patient. "We're the insurance company. We don't care—we don't have to." A personal favorite was Ernestine's rendition of Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover" with her sassy lyric "Get a new plan, Stan!" My name isn't Stan, but I think I've heard that said before. And the accompanying snarky, snorting laughter as well.
A lot of other characters came and went off stage, each one as easily and seamlessly as the next. Tomlin's stage persona included being a gracious hostess, but she did break the rule of "don't talk politics or religion at the table." She had a lot to stay about both, but judging by the applause, no one minded her opinions. She asked if there was anyone in the audience who supported Representative Bachmann and I heard nothin'. At the end of the show, she answered questions submitted by the audience. One question referred to her West Wing appearance as President Bartlett's assistant. When asked if she missed working in the White House she replied, 'Yes, I do, but Barack and Michelle haven't called me in yet."
My friend commented on her skill at engaging the audience on an individual level. It did feel as if you were having a living room conversation with her when she got sidetracked onto spontaneous ramblings. At one pointed, she dropped her head in frustration when recalling how much she missed her mom and dad, but resiliently rallied, saying that her mom would have most likely founded "Mothers Against Stand-Up Comics" in response to Tomlin's "Lud and Marie," skits which are based on her folks. I don't know for sure, but I'm pretty sure they're actually just up there laughing.
©2011 Betsy Gabler