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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Seattle Responds Big to
Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett

Carol Burnett
Carol Burnett
Ninety minutes proved about ninety minutes too short for the devoted Seattle audience that nearly filled McCaw Hall at Seattle Center Sunday night for the second of only four one-night West Coast stops for Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett, a cozy evening of Q&A, equally balanced with classic clips of the beloved comedienne's classic 1967-1978 CBS variety series. It was Burnett's first-ever appearance in Seattle, and the crowd, comprised mostly of fans who have followed her career from its mid-fifties launch on "The Garry Moore Show" to date, ate it up.

Following a montage of clips from her variety show featuring open Q&As with her studio audience, a glittery and glamorous Carol entered to a standing ovation, then deferred a few moments to toast her late, comic-genius co-star Harvey Korman, with a hilarious clip from an early sketch with Tim Conway as an inept dentist breaking up Korman's straight-man patient. Then it was time to "Bump up the lights," and let Seattle ask their questions, though it seems unlikely she will not be asked, at every show, to do her trademark Tarzan yell. Burnett related a humorous tale of how she limits such requests to "controlled situations," given a time when, lacking proper ID, a department store manager required it in order to confirm the star's identity. Burnett also brought presumably well-prepared tales, including a rather bawdy and truly funny one of a long-ago night in Washington D.C. involving (spoiler alert) the star and her chum Julie Andrews in a practical joke on director Mike Nichols which blew up in their faces, when an Andrews-conceived faux lesbian smooch was witnessed not by Nichols, but by none other than Lady Bird Johnson!

The only uncomfortable question that met the star concerned her reason for a threatened (subsequently dropped) legal action against the always outrageous "Family Guy" series spoof of her classic Charwoman character. Though Burnett felt that "It wasn't parody, but they got away with it," it was the one moment in the evening when we caught a glimpse of a star who has never lacked the guts to fight for her own rights and principles.

Further clip montages delighted the crowd, including some long unseen vocal duets with such vintage stars as Ethel Merman and an appealing, un-dubbed Rita Hayworth, pals like Lucille Ball, Jim Nabors and Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme, and of course a movie take-offs compilation climaxing with an extended clip from Went With the Wind, with its famous curtain dress bit. Burnett also offered a charming recollection of how her female sidekick Vicki Lawrence's teen fan letter and invitation to a talent contest led to her big break, as well as a big hats-off to exceptional show costumer Bob Mackie. Following a final compilation of clips, accompanied by a vocal of her signature theme song recorded for the series finale (plus a final line delivered live), Carol made her exit to another standing ovation.

Although, as Miss Burnett wistfully observed, "the networks couldn't afford to produce a lavish variety show week after week anymore," the sweet memory lingers on in reruns, on DVDs, and in this special event. Burnett limits these performances, but if you are in Portland, Oregon or Oakland, California, you are heartily encouraged to catch her this week.

Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett played on night at Seattle Center on September 27. The show continues Tuesday, September 29, 2009, 7:30 pm in Portland at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway; visit www.pcpa.com for further information. And in Oakland at the Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Thursday October 1, 2009 at 8:00 pm; visit www.paramounttheatre.com for more information.


Photo: Karyo-Edelman

See the list of this season's theatre offerings in the Seattle area.



- David Edward Hughes



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