By George: Say Goodnight Gracie Opens on Broadway Oct. 10

By Robert Simonson
October 10, 2002

Say Goodnight Gracie: The Life, Laughter and Love of George Burns , the new one-man show by Rupert Holmes starring Frank Gorshin, opens its Broadway run at the Helen Hayes Theatre on Oct. 10, following previews from Sept. 17.

Say Goodnight Gracie: The Life, Laughter and Love of George Burns , the new one-man show by Rupert Holmes starring Frank Gorshin, opens its Broadway run at the Helen Hayes Theatre on Oct. 10, following previews from Sept. 17.

Gracie is the first new play to open in the 2002-03 Broadway season. John Tillinger directs the work, which previously played at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts and the Coconut Grove Playhouse. It won Florida's Carbonell Award for Best New Play of 2000. Didi Conn provides the voice of Gracie Allen. John Lee Beatty is scenic consultant, lighting design is by Howard Werner, sound is by Kevin Lacey.

Since beginning previews, the unprespossessing Gracie has slowly grown into a quiet hit, playing to largish audiences and building up a tidy advance. In the week ending Oct. 6, the show played to just over 67 percent capacity, topping (percentage-wise) such titles as Chicago, Proof and Into the Woods. Gorshin's turn has met with standing ovations.

In Say Goodnight Gracie , comedian George Burns finds himself caught in limbo, unable to enter heaven until he plays his last performance, thereby preserving his perfect record of having never missed a curtain. Beginning with Burns' poverty-stricken youth on the Lower East Side of New York City, Gorshin recreates the great comedian's life, from his success in vaudeville and on the radio to his marriage to the love of his life, Gracie Allen, and her tragic death; finishing with Burns' late-in-life, Academy Award-winning success on the silver screen and his establishment as a 20th-Century entertainment and comedy icon.

Frank Gorshin may be known to a segment of the population as the Riddler from the popular Adam West "Batman" TV show, but the actor is also a gifted impressionist. "The thing about Frank and his impressions," playwright Holmes told Playbill On-Line, "was not that he did the voices but that he made himself look like the actors. He was Burt Lancaster when he did him. He was Kirk Douglas." Holmes related an experience when he saw Gorshin imitate Burns; bereft of thick glasses or cigar, and before he spoke a word, several people in the audience reacted to Gorshin with the exclamation, "George Burns!," Holmes said.

Joel Rooks is Gorshin's understudy.

Broadway's Helen Hayes Theatre is at 240 W. 44th Street. For ticket information, call (212) 239 6200.

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Discussing the genesis of Gracie, Holmes told Playbill On-Line: "The producer, William Franzblau, came to me and asked if I'd be interested in writing a play about the life George Burns. He knew from 'Remember WENN' that I am deeply smitten with all that happened in the golden age of radio. And Burns and Allen were among the biggest players then. My love of radio comes second hand. Live radio pretty much went off the air in 1960. I started collecting old radio shows when I was in my twenties. So I knew the Burns and Allen radio show pretty well, but I grew up watching Burns and Allen on TV. They did some amazing things on the TV show, they did surreal things. Gracie would be conspiring with her neighbor Blanche to put something over on George. She would be concocting this plot in her living room. George would be in his den upstairs and turn on the TV and watch Gracie hatching this plot on the Burns and Allen TV show. And then he would turn to us and say, 'If Gracie thinks I'm going to do that....' It so impressed me. He had always done this; this was George's hand. He loved absurd humor. He didn't get enough credit as the editor of what Gracie was and what their style was. He was very modest about it."

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Gracie is Holmes' first Broadway show in a decade. The playwright composer-singer won Tony Awards for both his book and score of the 1985 musical The Mystery of Edwin Drood , and another Tony for the show itself. His other Broadway credits include Accomplice and Solitary Confinement. He found success on television as the creator and writer of the long-running television series, "Remember WENN," about a Pittsburgh radio station in the 1930s.

Lately, Holmes has returned to the theatre in a big way. In addition to Gracie, he has penned the book to the new the Charles Strouse Lee Adams musical which is playing Boston's Huntington Theatre. His new thriller, Thumbs, ran at the Cape Playhouse in Cape Cod, MA, last summer after a run at the Helen Hayes Theatre Company in Nyack, NY. The show may come to Off-Broadway in the future. Finally, he is at work at a stage musical of "Remember WENN." The Helen Hayes Theatre Company has announced the show for March 2003.

To view the Playbill On-Line Brief Encounter with Rupert Holmes, click Brief Encounter.