Alan Safier takes the stage as George Burns in 'Say Goodnight Gracie'
George Burns was an icon during the “golden age of television” whose legacy lives on today.
On Thursday night at the 710 Main Theatre, Alan Safier starred as George Burns in the play Say Goodnight Gracie, taking the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions as the life of Burns unfolded on stage.
The audience watched as Burns started his career with a barbershop quartet at the age of 10, moving through theater, comedy, radio, films and television – all alongside his one true love, Gracie.
Safier certainly had his work cut out for him as he took on this role.
George Burns is a beloved character for many, being such a famous icon of the 20th century, so Safier had to make sure he captured the essence of his character just right.
“It’s challenging because you have to make sure that you don’t do anything that is contrary to his nature because so many people know him,” Safier said. “You don’t want to strike any false notes.”
This one-man show opened up with a cloud of smoke and bright lights when Burns walks onto the stage, finding himself in limbo after death. The original Broadway production of the show opened in 2002 and was the third-longest running solo show in Broadway history.
The play shows Burn’s dead at the age of 100, but he has not completely made it though to the “other side.” He has a conversation with God; he is told that in order to make it through, he needs to audition for heaven with the story of his life.
So, he tells the audience the story of his life.
Burns grew up in New York City in a one-bedroom tenement with both parents and 11 brothers and sisters, with the occasional stray dog. After his father passed away, Burns started working to help the family. At the age of 7 he had a paper route and was shining shoes, but it was while working at a candy shop that he discovered his love of performing.
Burns and three of his buddies became the Pee-Wee Quartet and quit their jobs in order to sing around town. From that day on, Burns never left show business.
But the quartet did not stay together forever, and, eventually, Burns had to move on.
He began auditioning and developed his career in vaudeville. It wasn’t a very successful career for him as a solo act and eventually he and Billy Lorraine stopped performing together, but then, he met Miss Grace Ethel Cecile Rosalie Allen.
The rest is history.
They became the comedic act of Burns and Allen in which Gracie was the star, traveling all over the country to perform together.
Burns wrote their scripts and they became famous for what he called “illogical logic” and closing each show telling the audience to “say goodnight Gracie.”
It didn’t take long for George to realize that this little Irish girl was the funniest, kindest and most beautiful woman he had ever known.
It’s no wonder he fell in love with her.
In a major turning point in the play, Gracie dies and Burns is left to deal with life without her.
George lives on heartbroken after her death for several more years.
But he would visit her in the cemetery every week until the day he himself died at the old age of 100.
Safier put on a performance that took the audience through all of the ups and downs of their lives.
With a cigar always in his hand, for a night, Safier became George Burns.
Susan Cesar and her husband were one of many couples in attendance.
The Amherst resident is just one example of someone who grew up with George and Gracie in their home.
“It was always a big deal, always had to get home to watch the Burns and Allen show,” Cesar said.
It was the “golden age of television.”
“We always watched [the Burns and Allen Show] with my parents, because I was very young,” Cesar said.
After Safier auditioned and got the role, he immediately took to studying Burns – he had just two weeks of rehearsals to prepare. Although he did impressions since junior high, he never “tackled Burns,” Safier said.
“I watched as many of the Burns and Allen TV shows as I could, whatever I could find,” Safier said. “I kept studying and I kept noticing things about him and kept incorporating new things every day, especially his mannerisms and the way he used his hands.”
Cesar said that watching the play helped her like George Burns, whereas when she watched the show on television as a child, she always liked Gracie more.
The performance was powerful: You laughed, you cried, you cried from laughing and laughed from crying. And you experienced the love George had for his Gracie as he auditioned his case for heaven, just to see her again.
Rebecca Vincent is an arts staff writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org