‘Laughter and Reflection with Carol Burnett – A Conversation Where The Audience Asks the Questions’
– review of the event at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts (Ft. Lauderdale).
Carol Burnett: comedienne, actress, singer, writer – does not even begin to tell her story. For many of us who grew up in the 1960’s and 1970’s her CBS variety show ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ was a Saturday night ritual for the entire family. It was here we were introduced to the comedy of Burnett, Lyle Waggoner, Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence and Tim Conway. What many of us didn’t know was her career started way before her groundbreaking series. Her actual breakout success came in 1959 on Broadway in Once Upon A Mattress, for which she received a Tony Award nomination. She made her television debut on the Gary Moore Show as a regular, winning her first Emmy Award in 1962. The Carol Burnett Show’s 11 year run 1967 to 1978 can now be seen all over the globe in syndication, on YouTube, and is available in its entirety on DVD release.
This afternoon’s performance at the Broward Center lived up to its expectation. ‘Laughter and Reflection’ was promised and delivered splendidly by our host, Carol herself. I can honestly say ninety minutes has never gone by so fast. Ms. Burnett is the real deal in the sense that she is actually what she presents; humble, down-to-earth, a rapid wit, amusing, funny, creative, unpretentious, and a warm soul. She emanates all this and more from the stage as the sold-out venue reveled in television clips from her series, personal stories, and her infamous question and answer format. It was like visiting an old friend you hadn’t seen in years. Time may have passed, but the familiarity was like picking up where you left off, nothing had changed. Growing up with the show I remember all the clips she showed this afternoon and I laughed as much today as I did when they first aired. The stories she told were just as witty as her comedy routines. Recalling her long-standing friendship with Julie Andrews, she spoke of a performance event they were to perform at for President Lyndon Johnson. Both staying at the same hotel, Andrews persuaded Ms. Burnett to come down to her room for hot chocolate. This turned into a joke Andrews wanted to play on Mike Nichols whom was also staying there. Inviting Nichols down to her room Andrews wanted to shock the famous director by meeting him as he stepped off the elevator in an intimate embrace with Burnett. It would have been famously grand if Lady Byrd Johnson hadn’t seen it instead with her full team of secret service men. You have to love British humor, thanks Dame Julie.
The video montages were wonderfully set up by Ms. Burnett showcasing the best of the best. We were re-introduced to some of her most famous characters, comedy bits and musical performances. The first montage featured her laid back ‘question and answer’ segment from the television show. A highlight from the original series, it’s easy to forget how funny and innovative this was. There was no third wall with Carol and her audience. We were always treated like family. That was and is the magic of Carol Burnett. Her interaction with the audience was easy and carefree today just as it’s been in the past. Fielding questions from the entire venue, nothing was off limits and often turned into a round of applause. There were quite a few audience members who had either worked with Carol many years ago or were connected in another way. Not skipping a beat, she remembered each one calling them by name. I wish I could convey to you specific questions asked, but there were so many it was difficult to write them down.
The second montage was a variety of musical performers Burnett sang duets with. I kept saying to myself the entire show “I remember that,” with a broad smile across my face like I was the only one in on ‘the secret’. These clips included Cher, Ella Fitzgerald, Liza Minnelli, the Carpenters, Bing Crosby, Perry Como and Ray Charles (among others).
The third montage highlighted Burnett’s spoofs and parodies from the “Golden Age of Hollywood.” The films parodied included Sunset Boulevard (Burnett’s Nora Desmond is legendary), Love Story (with Harvey Korman playing Ryan O’Neal’s role vs Burnett’s Ali McGraw’s character), Pillow Talk, and possibly the most famous Gone With the Wind (Went With the Wind – Carol’s version). You may not know the title of the sketch, but I’ll bet my last nickel you remember Burnett wearing the dark green outfit made of the window drapes and curtain rod. I see that smile on your face, you do remember! Burnett credited famed costume designer Bob Mackie and his comedic mind for the site gag of the drapes dress. Mackie whom has been Cher’s designer since the beginning of time worked with Carol for the entire eleven years of her show. Not only did he dress Carol, but the entire cast creating an astonishing seventy costumes a week. Thankfully, Ms. Burnett did the calculation for me; approximately 17,000 costumes for her television variety show.
The final montage of the afternoon included many of the stars whom have come and gone too soon. Singing the song she closed every show with I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together as the lights in the theater dimmed and as famous faces filled the screen: Jonathan Winters, Sally Field, Lily Tomlin, Tony Randall, Roddy McDowall, Maggie Smith, Jim Nabors, Bob Hope, Andy Griffith, Lucille Ball, among many others. This afternoon spent with Ms. Burnett is one I will cherish. Her grace, talent and spirit are one to behold. She remains a beloved comedic genius and pioneer of the entertainment medium.
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