Joel Rooks in Say Goodnight Gracie
(© Scott Myers)
Joel Rooks in Say Goodnight Gracie
(© Scott Myers)
During a year when the marital woes of reality television stars dominates the news, the revival of Rupert Holmes' gently entertaining and smoothly humorous solo show, Say Goodnight Gracie, now at the Theatre at St. Luke's under William Franzblau's direction, is most welcome as the portrait of a genuine celebrity love story.

When Gracie Allen died in 1964, she and comedian George Burns had worked together for four decades and been married for 38 years. Here, Burns -- played by Joel Rooks, looking and sounding much like Burns -- recounts the comedian's days for God in order to gain admission to heaven and a reunion with the beloved woman he wed only after a long wooing.

For 90 minutes, Rooks -- wielding a cigar as the late comic did and wearing the comedian's unconvincing grey toupee -- covers a life that began when Burns was Nathan Birnbaum, an impoverished Jewish kid on Manhattan's Lower East Side. He recalls the uncommonly shrewd Burns deciding that he would be the man of the house after his father died at age 47. Almost immediately, he realized show business was the ticket.

Yet only after hanging around the vaudeville circuit in several mediocre acts did he meet Gracie Allen, a show-biz offspring looking for a partner. Thinking he'd be the yuk-getter and she'd be the foil, Burns quickly intuited that Gracie with her squeaky voice and cute giggle was the genuine audience-pleaser. All he needed to do -- and which he did brilliantly for many decades -- was put the hilarious non sequiturs in her mouth.

Not only does Rooks repeat some of the teams' routines by himself, he also runs through a few with Gracie, as recorded by Didi Conn, who perfectly nails the adorable Gracie's bird-like tones.

Holmes also calls for projected footage of the real Burns and Allen. The sequences are a clinching reminder of how unique the pair was, and how these estimable talents -- and lifelong lovebirds -- will always be a hard act to follow.