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Ben Tyler directs ‘Tomfoolery’ at Fountain Hills Theater

Aug 16, 2023

Ben Tyler is the director of “Tomfoolery.” (Submitted photo)

Mathematician, physicist, musical theater professor and satirical comedian, Tom Lehrer was once a popular household name in America. A political satirist with a musical ear, Lehrer used his life experiences as fodder for his comedic productions.

“You don’t meet many people who have an artistic side and are super math people. They’re usually one or the other,” Ben Tyler said, director of “Tomfoolery,” a musical revue at Fountain Hills Theater that features many of Lehrer’s hits including, “When You Are Old and Grey,” “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” and “The Old Dope Peddler.”

Lehrer’s hot takes on the military and the atomic bomb during the 1950s and ‘60s when political tensions were high reveal just how dauntless and daring he was. It also reveals how Lehrer, now 95, is a living reminder that despair is not the only appropriate response to current politics.

“There will be no more misery when the world is our rotisserie, yes we will all fry together when we fry,” sang Lehrer in his hit song, “We will All Go Together When We Go,” a song about nuclear holocaust leading to human extinction. The song is the final track of his third album, “An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer,” released in 1959.

According to Tyler, audiences will enjoy the production because it promotes a kind of humor that makes one think.

“For example, there’s a song called ‘Who’s Next,’ and it’s about nuclear proliferation, okay, so first we got the bomb and that was good because ‘we love peace and motherhood,’” Tyler sings. “Then Russia got the bomb, but that’s okay because the balance of power is maintained that way. Then France got the bomb, ‘but don’t you grieve, ‘cause they’re on our side (I believe),’ and the last line is - and this may be my favorite line of the show, ‘We’ll try to stay serene and calm when Alabama gets the bomb! Who’s next, who’s next, who’s next?’”

This is the first time ‘Tomfoolery’ has played at Fountain Hills Theater, Tyler said, who has for years been “haranguing” Artistic and Technical Director Peter J. Hill to schedule its performance for Fountain Hills audiences.

Over 30 years in the making

Tyler first directed “Tomfoolery” in 1990 at his former theater house, the Mill Avenue Theater in Tempe. Tyler again directed the revue at the Desert Foothills Theater in Scottsdale before Hill decided it was time to bring the reckless, irreverent, shoot-from-the-hip comedy to Fountain Hills.

While seats fill up for “Tomfoolery,” Tyler is taking auditions for his play, “The Truth About Winnie Ruth Judd,” a production delving into the true story of an unsolved double homicide that took place in Phoenix during the 1930s. The comedy/drama production opens at The Phoenix Theater Company on Feb. 7, 2024.

For now, Tyler said he’s focused on making sure the Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon jokes hit home for Fountain Hills audiences.

“In terms of comedy, oh my god, [Lehrer’s] writing is just unbelievable,” he said.

“Tomfoolery” is directed by Ben Tyler, musically directed by Jay Melberg and choreographed by Noel Irick. “Tomfoolery” stars Megan Farinella, Hilary Hirsch, Roy Hunt and Wayne Peck. Presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International. *Rated PG for mature themes. For ages 14+.

“Tomfoolery” plays Aug. 18 to Sept. 3 with performances on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Individual tickets are $35 and seniors receive a $5 discount on all Thursday performances. Group, active duty and veteran discounts are also available. All performances are at Fountain Hills Theater on its Mainstage Too at 11445 N. Saguaro Blvd.

Tickets are available through the Theater Box Office at 480-837-9661 ext. 3 or by visiting Box Office Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. For additional information, call Peter J. Hill at 480-837-9661 ext. 7.

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