Back in 2020, comedy icon Carol Burnett was scheduled to bring her one-woman show, “An Evening of Reflection and Laughter,” to the equally iconic Chicago Theatre. Then a global pandemic came along, and everyone took a raincheck.
Thursday night, Burnett cashed that check and was greeted by a full-throated standing uproar the minute she walked on stage. That’s how you greet a living legend.
Not so much a performance as an informal chat (instantly familiar to anyone who watched Burnett interact with audiences during the 11-year run of her groundbreaking TV show), the star displayed a talent that is perhaps uniquely hers: the ability to captivate a 3,800-plus seat sold-out house with the warm intimacy of a heart-to-heart between two old friends.
The multi-generational crowd’s questions ranged from the personal … “What advice do you have to young women just beginning their careers?” … to the obscure … “Did you ever actually meet Secretary of State John Foster Dulles?” (Dulles was the improbable subject of a novelty song that first brought Burnett TV attention in 1957; sung on both Jack Paar’s “Tonight Show” and then Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town,” the Elvis-hysteria spoof “I Made a Fool of Myself over John Foster Dulles” was Burnett’s first exposure to a nationwide public.)
During the evening, Burnett alternated between showing clips from her show (Harvey Korman and Tim Conway’s famous “Dentist Chair” skit? Check. Gone with the Wind parody, complete with curtain rod shoulder pads? Check. Duets with Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé? Check.) and sharing stories from her rise from New York nightclub performer to beloved TV idol.
It’s telling that the audience members were evenly divided between addressing her simply as “Carol” or, more formally, “Miss Burnett.” What do you call a star who feels like one of the family? Burnett’s stories of clowning with the likes of close friends Betty White, Julie Andrews, and Lucille Ball (her mentor for many years) underscored the same point: this is a woman who makes the spectacular seem familiar.
While her appearance focused on stories of past success, Burnett shows no signs of slowing down. Two days past her 89th birthday, she is in talks to bring a new comedy program to TV “with several great gals”–although Burnett stressed that she couldn’t reveal details because discussions weren’t final yet.
Until they are, we can all still spend time together via YouTube clips, MeTV reruns and tours like these. (She’s appearing next in Milwaukee and Cleveland.)
If you have the chance to see her in person—don’t miss it.
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