The handicap parking was packed an hour before showtime…
Not exactly a big surprise since the headliner was iconic, 79 year-old comic Carol Burnett. Clearly this was no Lady Gaga concert crowd.
That said, my first encounter of the evening was with a 20-something hipster couple dressed as if they’d made a wrong turn on the way to the Record Bar. Pitch readers, I suppose.
“She’s an INSTITUTION,” the dude said. “Some of my best childhood memories are of my mom and me watching her reruns.”
The Carol Burnett fan age gap was made even clearer by the fact not even said dude’s mother was old enough to have watched Burnett’s 1967 television series.
Naturally there were plenty of octogenarians there, who, like kids attending a rock concert in band swag, commemorated the occasion by wearing vintage Bob Mackie dresses.
But overall, the crowd was a surprising mix of all ages with a higher than normal ratio of gays, since Burnett is, after all, one of the Top 50 gay entertainment icons of all time. Right up there with Cher, Liza Minelli and Cyndi Lauper.
The lights dimmed, the curtain raised and a 60 second montage of Burnett’s famed Tarzan yell was beamed onto a giant screen as Burnett looked on. Followed immediately by videos from across the years, showing how Burnett’s hair styles and fashions evolved. As the last couple of videos flickered across the screen the spot light focused on Burnett on the left of the stage and the crowd applauded wildly and she walked out with a boisterous, “Well, HELLO!”
Burnett’s show was divided into three video segments that covered various
of her comedy skits from over the years, a sampling of her musical guests
and the movie take-offs she was so famous for.
However with the first video clip it became clear something wasn’t right.
The Kauffman Center has some of the best sound and acoustics in the world, but
it quickly became evident that Burnett’s source material was sub par to say the least.
As if for the 25 years her one woman show has run nobody bothered to remaster the old audio into something halfway listenable! Frankly, it sounded as if someone had dug up an old 1960s television set and turned up full blast.
It was at that point people began the frequent process leaning over to their
neighbors, as if to ask, “What did she just say?”
On top of that, Burnett insisted on wearing a clip on mic attached to her dress instead of a far superior over the ear boom mic, making her audio sketchy at best as she turned from side to side away from the mic.
Overall the poor sound quality was a major distraction.
The only time the audience could clearly hear was when someone in the crowd asked a question which came across crystal clear.
And Burnett took endless questions from the crowd – nothing edgy though as Hearne had suggested – pretty much all softballs.
She did get choked up though when asked about her relationship with Lucille Ball. They were clearly great friends and shared an enormous admiration for one
In a broken voice Burnett said that Lucy had died on her 56th birthday, and
she’d gotten flowers from her that very day.
Asked if Burnett thought there would ever be a show like hers again, she
said she’d like to think so but it wasn’t likely.
Remember; when Burnett was at the height of her career, there were only three television networks and no matter what your ratings were within reason, you had a pretty good shot at getting a third of the audience. She had 30 million viewers
Burnett went on to explain that the expense of the show wouldn’t fit today’s budget model. Designer Bob Makie made over 60 costumes a week; they had a 16 piece orchestra and a staff of 35.
You’re simply not going to see that today with 200 networks to choose from.
And that perhaps is why Burnett’s been selling out shows all over the country in the 25 years she’s done this show.
One comment came from a 50-something black man who said he’d lived in a
home where his parents had not spoken for over a year. Then one night as
the family was watching Burnett’s show, as she did the Ty-D-Bol spoof
his whole family laughed and magically his mom and dad started talking from that moment on.
That same sentiment was echoed by a group I visited with after the show.
Two of them said they came from homes with difficult, controlling fathers and a
lot of stress in the family, but the one time everyone laughed was during Burnett’s show.
Which shows, I guess, that dysfunctional families have been around forever and laughter is still one of the best medicines.
The show ended with a montage of Burnett’s closing number – the song Hamilton, her husband and producer then, wrote as the theme song – that she sang at the end of every episode.
“I’m so glad we had this time together, just to have a laugh or sing a song, seems we just get started and before you know it, comes the time we have to say, ‘So
About half way through the video, the spotlight rose on Burnett and she sang along, tugging at her left ear at the end and telling Kansas City goodnight.
Burnett ended each of her television shows by tugging her ear as a message to her grandmother who raised her that she was doing well and loved her.
She then left the stage to a 90 second standing ovation.
Maybe Burnett’s just a great actress – maybe it’s real – but from all anyone
could tell, she was up there because she wanted to be; and nothing about
her gives away her 79 years.
I stood in the lobby afterwards for 20 minutes or so visiting with friends. When
we left and turned North on Broadway, there Burnett was – her black Suburban wedged between the security gate and the street – straddling the sidewalk as she hung out the back window signing autographs and talking to fans.
So it was that Burnett’s less than perfect sound got lost in the fastest 90 minute show one could imagine.
They don’t make ’em like Carol Burnett any more.
Who in today’s entertainment world will be doing a one man or one woman
show for 25 years talking about a television show that ended 30 years earlier?
I sure can’t think of anyone.