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Gambit Weekly Revenge of the Fourth Estate

By Dalt Wonk

NOVEMBER 10, 1997:  There was a time -- and not so very long ago -- when people used to "entertain" each other as a normal and recurring part of life. Not "entertain" as in "having friends over for a social gathering" but as in "put on a performance."

The main source of income for songwriters, for instance, was the sale of sheet music. People played the music for themselves and others. The culture was participatory in a way we have almost forgotten.

Of course, in "musical" families, this is still the case. But I grew up in a family that was not "musical" by any stretch of the imagination, and yet, we had a piano inherited from my grandmother. My mother played and still does. My sister took lessons but dropped it, by the time of her generation, the times had changed.

I don't believe one can ever safely predict that a trend is irreversible, but it does seem safe to say that the pendulum has swept way out in the direction of passive consumption. It's gotten so you can hardly get a salesman to sell you something (surely the most basic "performance" in our free enterprise system), but he will try to sit you down in front of a video.

In a happy departure from this reliance on technological slickness, the Press Club of New Orleans puts on its annual fundraiser and celebration in the form of an original satiric review. This year, the show was at Le Petit. And a rousing, comical affair it was.

The evening has a feast-of-fools, no-holds-barred, nothing-is-sacred mood, and its success or failure depends largely on the wit of the script. It must be outrageous without being offensive. (Without being overly offensive, at any rate.)

Police Chief Richard Pennington showed a fine understanding of the irreverent ambience when he accepted his "headliner of the year" award before the show began. "Thank you," remarked the chief prudently. "I won't say anything else, because I don't know what's coming next!"

Actually, he got off easy in the skits that followed, although the chief (played by Carrey Bowers) was shown being mugged by an off-duty cop (Jim Chimento) who accepted credit cards. That "incident" was followed by a song-and-dance extravaganza featuring New Orleans' finest with sequined top hats and canes singing about "razzling and dazzling" the public with crime "stats."

Morris Holmes, our well-paid School Board president, came in for a bit more heat. Holmes (Leslie Williams) stood at a podium giving an impassioned defense of public education in the Crescent City while dope-smoking students stole everything from the classroom and finally even snipped off the superintendent's tie.

An ersatz Edwin Edwards, not unsurprisingly, managed to upstage the present governor. Edwards (adroitly played by Ken Ferguson) appeared first in a musical number backed up by a chorus of convicts: "I gotta a little motto/That always sees me through/When you're good to Edwin/Edwin's good to you!" Then he returned to give a "speech to Harvard," an astringent burlesque of that charming cynicism we have come to know so well.

Anne Rice (Sheila Shea Chimento) and Al Copeland (Jim Chimento) squared off in a version of "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better." Meanwhile, Mary Landrieu (Peggy Sanders) and Woody Jenkins (Jon Russo) vied for public approval in a game show.

Although politics was front and center, some of the funniest moments of the show had an off-the-wall silliness about them. Angela Hill (Janine Manguno), for instance, was driven off a story about a hurricane when the survivors who were annoyed by her sympathy threatened to make her wear "small, tasteful earrings."

And in one of the many news breaks, there was an item about the law requiring sex offenders to send postcards informing their neighbors of their misdeeds. In the French Quarter, this resulted in a new dating service.

There also was an uncharacteristic plaintive note to the evening, for all the skits took place against a backdrop of the names of major downtown businesses -- Werlein's, Woolworth, D.H. Holmes and Krauss -- with "closed" scrawled across them.

Director Elliott Keener's show ran smoothly, and the cast of seasoned actors and intrepid media types gave spirited performances. But a lion's share of credit goes to the script committee: executive producer Matt Scallan, Liz Scott, Peter Hagan III, S. Lee Alexander, Karen Turni, Clem Goldberger, Mark Schleifstein, Mary Lacoste, Byron Hughey, Martin Covert, Clancy DuBos, Ernie Svenson, Ken Ferguson, and above all to comedian Christian Champagne, who, Scallan says, dreamed up the overwhelming bulk of the material.

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