American singer/songwriter Tom Lehrer is best known for the darkly satirical songs he recorded in the 1950s and 1960s. And this virtuoso performance by pianist Adam Kay is the perfect showcase for some of Lehrer’s best work; Kay is intelligent, world-weary and knowing.
We watch Lehrer develop from his early days as a child prodigy studying maths at Harvard through to eventual musical stardom. Along the way Kay plays and performs Lehrer classics at the piano, including the rather disturbing and all-too-literal 'Poisoning Pigeons in the Park'.
Kay brings some versions of Lehrer's songs up to date, including material for what he calls the "X Factor generation”. One song details every British prime minister for more than a hundred years. Recent political events, of course, meant a last-minute revision.
Lehrer’s music feels surprisingly modern, considering he was working more than 50 years ago. Nowhere is this more true than in his 'The Masochism Tango'. “I ache for the touch of your lips, dear,” sings Kay. “But much more for the touch of your whips, dear.”
The performer’s sardonic tone feels well-suited to this story of Lehrer, who himself parodied others in his music, doing so without mercy. Kay's face is suitably lugubrious; no other expression could work as well for the dark humour that runs through Lehrer’s work.
It feels like a privilege to hear Lehrer's work in this setting. Kay’s update makes the writer feel as relevant today as he was 50 years ago.