The Missouri History Museum is a perfect venue for Chuck Lavazzi's retooled cabaret show Just a Song at Twilight, since it allows a number of slides to be projected (courtesy of Marjorie Williamson) which give life to Lavazzi's recollections of the golden age of vaudeville. There is also a very personal element to this presentation since Lavazzi explains that these classic, and largely forgotten tunes, were sung to him and his brother by his mother as lullabies. This combined with the informative nature of the show make for a uniquely pleasant, at times melancholy, and often amusing production by the West End Players Guild.
Anecdotes about the Dolly sisters, Nora Bayes and Bert Williams among many others were delivered in engaging fashion with the projections neatly providing a face for each story. Theses entertaining tidbits served to introduce songs or to describe the era itself. Songwriters like Gus Kahn and Henry Tilzer were also showcased.
Lavazzi ran through a bevy of old tunes like "Love's Old Sweet Song", "I've Got Rings on My Fingers (Bells on My Toes)", "Shine on Harvest Moon", "Under the Anheuser Bush", "Nobody", "After the Ball", and "Toot, Toot, Tootsie (Goo'bye)", giving each number the special attention it deserved. Pianist and Music Director Carol Schmidt accompanied Lavazzi, giving each song a ragtime flair as she carefully followed Neal Richardson's arrangements.
Some of the material may sound familiar to those who are aficionados of the Warner Bros. cartoons, since the melodies were often pilfered by Carl Stalling and Milt Franklyn to provide underscoring. Of course, Michigan J. Frog ("One Froggy Evening") the official mascot of the WB network also croaked a few of these songs in a classic cartoon directed by Chuck Jones.
Director Tim Schall does a fine job reigning in the material and honing the selections for maximum effect, but ultimately it's Lavazzi who's responsible for this delightful homage to a time gone by.