In 1959, the musical satirist Tom Lehrer began his live rendition of “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park” with an introduction that still rings true today.
“I’d like to take you now on wings of song, as it were, and try and help you forget perhaps for a while, your drab, wretched lives,” Lehrer said.
Come September, you’ll likely hear “Pigeons” again at the Aurora Fox theater. The north Aurora playhouse is kicking off its diverse 36th season with the hilariously dark tunes of Lehrer in “Tomfoolery,” a revue based on Lehrer’s songs and general mischievousness.
Lehrer is well-known for threading funny songs with social justice issues still wracking the U.S., including racism, so “Tomfoolery” is a logical pick for a season of theater tackling big topics. The curtains are at least planned to open amidst an unprecedented pandemic, anomie and social upheaval.
“I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone that I have an affinity for shows that speak directly to our community,” said Helen Murray, the Fox’s executive producer.
“Tomfoolery” will run Sept. 18 to Oct.11, depending on pandemic conditions, followed by Langston Hughes’ “Black Nativity” from Nov. 27 to Dec. 20. A story of lost love and rekindling will kick off the new year in “The Pavillion,” from Jan. 29 to Feb. 21. Then, the Fox will return to race and class issues March 12 to April 4 with “Queens Girl in the World,” a story of a Black girl thrust into the insular community of a “progressive, predominantly-Jewish private school” in Greenwich Village. A rock’n’rolling adaptation of Alice in Wonderland tailored for teens will wrap up the season from April 23 to May 16.
For Murray, social justice and diversity are important on the stage, not only in terms of “race and ethnicity and gender and faith” but also in storytelling. Black experiences will be front and center in Hughes’ Afrocentric Christmas tale and “Queens,” but the season’s content will vary widely.
The productions won’t vary, however, in cast size. At least, not by very much. Murray and her crew revamped the 36th season around productions with six cast members or less to limit the spread of the ever-present novel coronavirus. With a band, that means no more than 10 people will be on stage at a given time.
That’s one of a slew of measures at the Fox to coax patrons out of wherever they’ve been holed up since March and enjoy some theater.
The Fox has also engendered a flexible “punchcard for theater” allowing people to postpone that visit to the venerable north Aurora playhouse if they’re feeling ill. That ticket will roll over indefinitely, Murray said, even to the 37th season.
Plus, the cast of “Tomfoolery” will be preparing virtually until late August or early September.
“We’re feeling cautiously optimistic, I should say,” Murray said. “We’re about to find out on the first show if everything we put into place is manageable and workable.”
Until the season kicks off in September, throw on some Lehrer and embrace his dark humor. “Pigeons” is an apt place to start.
Plus, if “drab” and “wretched” aren’t ringing bells, we’re not sure which bunker you’re living in — but can we join?
Learn more about the Fox’s 36th season and peruse tickets at www.aurorafoxartscenter.org