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A CurtainUp Review
Danny & Sylvia: The Danny Kaye Musical
This show is an intimate portrait of Kaye and his wife and creative partner, Sylvia Fine Kaye. We learn about their personal backgrounds, that they both attended Thomas Jefferson High School in Brooklyn (now P.S. 149) and fortuitously reconnected at an audition in the Poconos, where she was the auditioning pianist. She is portrayed as Kaye's eminence grise, guiding him through the labyrinthine paths of show business. While Kaye was able to hatch Quixotic dreams of being a big time performer, it was Sylvia's songwriting talent that ultimately shaped Kaye's professional success.
In an opening monologue Kaye takes the audience into his confidence. His "It only took me 10 years to become an overnight success" makes it clear that his storied career was no accident. When Sylvia (Kimberly Faye Greenberg) walks on stage, and quietly sits down at the piano time shifts to 1938 and and an audition at Camp Tamiment in the Poconos. She persuaded him to sing the manager's favorite song "Danny Boy" rather than his prepared audition number. And she was right on the money. He soared through the number with his pipes tuned to an Irish key, and the manager signed him on.
Sylvia recognized Danny's his unique acting talents and became his mentor, manager, and eventually his wife. Kaye, who liked to ham his parts and improvise on scripts was far less disciplined than Sylvia. Though his inventiveness and comic brio charmed her she reined him in enough for him to be more serious about his acting future.
Danny Kaye enthusiasts —those old enough to remember him— were much in evidence the night I was at the theater. Most of the pre-show buzz focused on his popular films (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,Hans Christian Anderson,The Five Pennies, White Christmas). A few remembered him as a global ambassador for UNICEF. Everybody seemed to have a favorite film episode or anecdote including how he could ingeniously mimic musical instruments, imitate animal sounds, or magically weave a story around a country or urban theme. However, anyone who buys a ticket expecting Brian Childers to really embody Kaye or for this show to fully explore biographical details like his womanizing and bi-sexuality, will be disappointed. With his blonde hair and trim physique Childers does bear some resemblance to his subject —but his characterization is too superficial for him to really disappear into the character. Actually, Kimberly Faye Greenberg's Sylvia Fine, is more convincing. Perhaps because, unlike her husband, she's not a fixture in our cultural memory which allows us to readily accept her interpretation. That said, Childers and Greenberg have good stage chemistry and both belt out the songs with gusto.
Childers is at his best singing Kurt Weill's and Ira Gershwin's "Tchaikovsky," a tongue-twisting litany of 58 Russian composers sung in a breakneck 38 seconds; also when singing some of the program's original numbers like "She's Got a Fine Head on My Shoulders"and the poignant duet "What Will We Say." Both these songs (music by Bob Bain, lyrics by Robert McElwaine) neatly delineate a high and low point in the Kayes's relationship: the first is a tribute to Sylvia as a creative artist, and the second refers to their volatile marriage and one serious breakup. And, yes, you will hear the well-known "Anatole of Paris" and "The Maladjusted Jester, " but despite Fine's deft comic touch in songwriting, these tunes which should glimmer, here sound strangely stale.
Pamela Hall competently directs the famous couples journey from earliest showbiz days through his heyday in the 1950s. Josh Iacovelli's uncluttered set is warmly lit by Graham Kindred. Ultimately, though, not even Danny and Sylvia's best songs really pull you in. Maybe it's simply impossible to do Kaye's talent justice.