Lyrics That Laugh : Dale Gonyea tells stories with his comic songs. ‘I’m a little hipper than Broadway,’ he adds.

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; <i> Libby Slate is a regular contributor to The Times. </i>

“It’s been a wild year,” says singing humorist Dale Gonyea. “I’ve sung for Placido Domingo, sung at a party for George Burns, gone down the Amazon River and performed in Bora Bora and Chile.”

He also made his debut, in April, at the cabaret-coffee house Tonto & Dietz in Studio City. He returns there tonight and Saturday, with more shows scheduled each Thursday night, June 16 through July 28.

The venue suits Gonyea, whose act combines his witty songs about topical subjects, a parody or two, droll comments to the audience about events in his life and the world, and the kind of masterful piano playing that only years of classical study can produce.


“The great thing about a place like Tonto & Dietz is that I’m in an urban center, so I can be a little more sophisticated and timely,” says the forty-something Gonyea, who declines to give his age. (“Just say I remember ‘My Mother the Car’ very well.”) “I can comment and write about current events. It’s nice to have an outlet where you can get up and do that--otherwise you get constipated, rashes and things.”

One of his numbers, “I’d Rather Write a Song,” for example, is constantly updated, with one lyric now, “I’d rather write a song than club a skater in the knee.” Another, the whimsical lament “Baby, Why’d You Have to Tell Oprah?” lampoons the talk-show craze.

His current repertoire--he figures he has written about 500 songs, including the Grammy-nominated “I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow”--also includes such ditties as “Tick-Tock,” warning men to be aware of a woman’s biological clock; “Namedroppings,” the classical music version that includes queries such as “Where does Simon Rattle? With whom did Kathleen Battle?” and an opera spoof, “The Red Gloves” (or “Il Rosso Isotoners”), in which he sings all the roles.

Not all of Gonyea’s material is comical, though: There’s the poignant tribute to his father, “My Dad Could Beat Up Your Dad, But He Wouldn’t,” and the downright serious “Don’t Pull the Shade (You’ll Block Out the Moonlight),” about lovers’ farewells and new beginnings.

“I think of myself as a storyteller,” says Gonyea, who began playing piano at 5 in his native Monroe, Mich., developed an early love for musicals when he saw the film “West Side Story,” and gained both a music degree and a love of opera at the University of Michigan. “I tell stories with songs. I’m a little hipper than Broadway.”

At Tonto & Dietz, Gonyea is not the only one telling those stories. As in April, he will be joined by other singers. Co-owner Susan Dietz “had sent out flyers saying, ‘Dale Gonyea and Friends,’ ” he recalls of the departure from his usual one-man show. “I have a network of talented friends in this area, and a lot had done my songs.”


This time around he will perform with a changing roster of entertainers, including Debra Lane and Laurie McIntosh; the previous shows featured Maggie Roswell, who provides voices for “The Simpsons,” musical theater actor Michael Hawkins and theater publicist/singer Rick Miramontez.


Gonyea has also written material performed by the likes of Bette Midler, Andrea Marcovicci, Ray Stevens and Rosie O’Donnell, and has worked for Disney, most recently providing lyrics for the Genie’s song about his travels, “Nothing in the World (Quite Like a Friend)” in “The Return of Jafar,” the video sequel to “Aladdin.” That number reflects Gonyea’s own sojourns, performing a show more homespun than hip on three cruises a year. Past appearances include opening for Andy Williams, Glen Campbell and Dorothy Hamill’s ice show and playing Town Hall in New York and Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas.

Dietz, who has produced his shows at the Canon Theatre in Beverly Hills and the Pasadena Playhouse, has suggested that Gonyea establish a regular residence at Tonto & Dietz.

“I’m hoping we can do a concept like, ‘That Was the Week That Was With Dale Gonyea,’ ” Dietz says. “I adore him. I’m pretty jaded, and I can sit and listen to him for hours. I think people love him because he’s so innately funny and smart and at the same time, there’s no pomposity. He’s like a regular guy who happens to play piano great. And everybody loves to laugh.”

Everybody, including Gonyea.”I don’t feel like a tortured soul,” he says. “I know so many people who are creative who can’t enjoy their lives because they’re always in a state of trying to create something. We’re not curing anything. If it’s not fun, what’s the point?”

Where and When Who: Dale Gonyea.

Location: Tonto & Dietz, 12747 Ventura Blvd., Studio City.

Hours: 8 tonight and Saturday and every Thursday, beginning June 16 through July 28. Also, a 4 p.m. performance Saturday.


Price: $15 cover.

Call: (818) 763-4166; reservations required.