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Jewish World Review
Dec. 21, 2007
/ 12 Teves 5768
Three Nights at the Theater
Hold onto your hats. The following comment may shock you. I saw two musical shows last week that I actually enjoyed! I know this is hard to believe, but it is true and I must say, a pleasure to report. So often I find that the theater has nothing to offer me these days, it seems shows are either completely juvenile or else they are message driven, envelope-pushing propaganda vehicles that completely turn me off. The theater has forgotten how to put on a show that is simply good old fashioned entertainment - no agendas, no politically-correct innuendos, just great performers putting on a solid production with a well written book and terrific songs.
So I went to the theater twice last week and actually had a good time! Actually, before I get into those shows, I should say that the fun theater experience first began over a month ago when I saw "Wicked" - the Broadway smash hit that turns The Wizard of Oz on its head by telling the story from the witch's point of view.
My sister had seen the show first and enjoyed it so much that she bought tickets for my wife's birthday and the three of us went to see it. "Wicked" was a lot of fun and I left the theater laughing with my wife and sister. The actress who plays Glinda, the good witch, is a riot and brings the house down with the number, "Popular." (You should hear my sister singing the song!)
Then last week came a couple of real surprises. The first one was "The Kid from Brooklyn - The Danny Kaye Story." Brian Childers plays Kaye and he captures the persona perfectly. The other performers; Karin Leone (excellent as Sylvia Fine), Christina Purcell, and Joshua Finkel were very good too, but Childers IS the show. He does Danny Kaye without doing a broad Danny Kaye "impersonation," if you know what I mean. He becomes Kaye and watching him do the famous numbers that made Danny Kaye a star, you believe that he is indeed Danny Kaye.
Those tongue-twisting Danny Kaye numbers are hard enough to do all by themselves, but add to that the hand gestures, body movements, and voice of Danny Kaye and you begin to realize just how great a performance Brian Childers gives in this show. The wigs and costumes help immensely, and they too are done exactly right. Even the way the jackets fit Childers, just the way Kaye wore them, is right on. Someone really did their job in spades with the research of this show.
My only complaint is with the book. For my money, too much time is spent on the "real life" problems of Kaye. I know the rumors, I've heard the backstage gossip, but guess what? As an audience member I don't want to have the dark side of Kaye brought out in a show like this - a show that is supposed to be a tribute to the talents of Danny Kaye.
I believe people come to this show to laugh and experience Danny Kaye, the performer, not to see Danny Kaye's personal demons. I know I'm not alone, I could sense the audience reaction becoming uncomfortable whenever the show got away from the fun and music. The whole business with the psychiatrist simply brought the show to a stand still.
Was Danny Kaye a human being with foibles and hang-ups like the rest of us? Sure, he was, but nobody really cares. Those who know the man behind the mask don't need to be told, and those who don't know, don't need to know. Moreover, it's not important for this kind of show - just do the great routines and songs - that's really what people came to see, after all. In short, leave the angst to Kafka and the antics to Kaye.
Having said all of that, the performances of all four of the cast members make for a wonderful evening in the theater. And Brian Childers really should get an award (actually, I think he has) for his amazing portrayal of Danny Kaye. That alone is worth the price of admission.
And speaking of wonderful portrayals, "The Rat Pack -Live at the Sands" was another real treat. Amazing is the word for Stephen Triffitt's Frank Sinatra performance. David Hayes as Sammy Davis, Jr. was about as close as you can get to the real deal (unless you could shrink Hayes down to five-foot-two). Nigel Casey as Dean Martin was the weakest of the three, but even there, he had Dino's moves right and if you squinted your eyes and suspended belief you bought it.
Just as in the Danny Kaye show, the costumes and attention to period detail for "The Rat Pack" was spot on. It's those little things that truly make a difference for me. The linchpin of the show is, of course, Frank Sinatra and as I said, the performance was great. Having seen Sinatra himself in Las Vegas and being a huge fan, I was skeptical about just how close an impersonator could get to the Chairman of the Board, but Triffitt nailed him.
The chorus girls were terrific, looking exactly like Vegas show girls of that time, the bang swung, using those knockout charts of Nelson Riddle and others, and the entire evening was a trip back to that mid-sixties time on the Las Vegas strip. The whole production captured the spirit of the time and the friendship that those three entertainers had for each other. I really felt that I spent an evening with Frank, Dean and Sammy. What a delight!
Now if someone could find an impersonator to do Bing Crosby … or Fred Astaire… or … Bob Hope…. Then I'd have reasons to go to the theater more often.
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.
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© 2006, Greg Crosby