Emmy-award winning composer Dale Gonyea was reared by parents whose philosophy at their Monroe, Mich., drive-in restaurant was to go the extra mile for customers. It was so important to them that they named their business “Extra.” So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Gonyea gave his Brownwood Area Live on Stage audience plenty of extras Monday night.
That “something extra” included comedic rapid-fire renditions of 14 songs he crafted during the 15-minute intermission, each using the name of a Texas town shouted to him from the audience. He especially had fun with “Democrat,” “Okra” and “Bug Tussle.” While the tunes were familiar, they were sung with words he crafted while his audience stretched their legs - done, as he calculated it, at something close to an average of one a minute.
Listeners’ minds were stretched too by Gonyea’s puns, not the least of which used celebrities’ names to pose the musical question, “What did Stevie Wonder?” He had a piano bench full of others, such as “Is Helen Reddy?” and “What did Ernest Hemingway?” Just as he warned the crowd, it’s an exercise that will keep you awake at night if you let it.
Gonyea also performed a few classical pieces without wisecracks or contrived lyrics - traditional treatments that gave the serious music lovers in the audience some real substance. One such number, however, was followed with a partial repeat played behind a narration of the type of stray thoughts that might be running through the performer’s mind as he goes through that night’s rendition of a rehearsed number.
Audience members certainly couldn’t complain about getting their money’s worth after Monday’s show. An adult season ticket to Brownwood Area Live on Stage - one granting admittance to this and five more concerts between November and April - costs only $50. It’s a true bargain when you consider that tickets for a Gonyea performance next month in his hometown of Monroe are going for $30 each. Consider too that seats for Gonyea’s show in Greenvale, N.Y., at the end of this month are going for $140 each, and those are the “cheap seats.” Of course, everything’s more expensive on Long Island. But this gives you an idea of the type of entertainment that’s being brought here for area audiences.
That’s not to say the Live On Stage’s first act of the season was looking down on us small town folk. Gonyea didn’t arrive in Central Texas to crank out another show and move along to the next one. Rather, he did some homework. He got to town early enough to scope out the local sites and learn something about the community. What he didn’t find out on his own, he found out by asking questions. And comments he made during his show proved it.
He talked about how Texas audiences are already great audiences. We could swallow that one. But when a comedian tells his audience that it’s been a lifetime goal of his to play in Brown County, Gonyea didn’t have to offer one of his patented double-takes to elicit a chuckle. But double-take he did, nonetheless.
But by the end of his show, you had to think maybe there was more sincerity in such a comment than exaggeration. Maybe it’s not been a lifetime goal to play here specifically, but the audience was convinced that after all the bright lights and big cities he has seen, he preferred this type of show. He repeatedly compared the small-town values of the people from cities like this to those he knew growing up. And his compliments about the helpfulness of those he met and his appreciation for the intimacy of the Living Word auditorium were all from the heart.
That’s because they came from a performer who is so grounded that he performs the tribute to his parents he composed for them on their 50th wedding anniversary.
It’s not unusual for entertainers to personalize their shows, even if it’s only a tip of the hat like a parting, “We love you, Milwaukee!” But Gonyea’s efforts had him working overtime. Indeed, he mentioned twice that his show was running long, but still… he was compelled to do one more. And he did, to the audience’s delight.
Gene Deason is editor of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Friday. He may be reached by e-mail at gene.