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A CurtainUp Review
Who Loves You, Baby?
Looking at what’s been going on in today’s world, this fast-living guy with a sensitive core, was inspired to come back and offer his words of wisdom. He saw that too much has changed since his day, like substituting phony cigarettes for the real thing, the popularity of white wine, video games that he called, “Japan’s last and greatest trap. An atomic bomb straight to the libido.” Telly had to set things straight. (“I’m talking about the real thing, baby. And to think it was almost a lost art, but now I’m back!”)
Savalas performed in a handful of action films and starred as Lt.Theo Kojak in one very popular television series called, Kojak. He boasts that he beat out Brando for that role.
Tom DiMenna deftly channels the charisma of this ‘70’s icon. Referring to himself in the third person, he scoffs at the weakness of men today who don’t know how to show a dame he loves her (“A man has the responsibility of being a man”). In his clipped tough way, he also advises “Wear a silk shirt once in awhile. Tuck it in. You got a lady, go watch a sunset with her. Powder your feet.” Disdaining today’s police shows, he sneers, “CSI is not a cop show, it’s an eye exam.” He shows some video clips to point out the superiority of Kojak. Illustrating what love-making should be, he says, “Roll it, kid. Give ‘em a thrill,” and we get a clip of him romancing Maud Adams in the film, Killer Force, which he calls “the hottest scene in cinema.” (He obviously has not been watching daytime TV from up there in heaven.)
As pumped up as he is abouthis alpha-man roles, Telly is really his own greatest fan when he sings. At the top of the show, accompanist Alex Leonard strolls to the piano to set the mood with, “What Does He Have That You Don’t Have?” a take-off on the song from On a Clear Day You Can See Forever . DiMenna then enters as the familiar, bald “Telly” in wide lapels and gold chain. He croons, “Windmills of Your Mind,” sometimes forgetting a word and starring thoughtfully into space.
Things get side-splittingly funny listening to these former hits like the soulfully narrated, “If,” followed by a modest, “Thank you” to laughs louder than any applause. He mentions one Top 10 tune that the Righteous Brothers tried in 1965, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” He claims that it was his version that got it right. According to Telly, Sinatra told him that while Frankie tried recording, “Didn’t We?” it really needed Telly’s delivery to do it justice. Remembering this, he solemnly whispers, “Miss you, ‘Blue Eyes’.”
The accent and pronunciation are strangely unidentifiable although Savalas was born in Garden City, Long Island. The vocal tone is part drone, part whisper — all absurd and all self-satisfied. He reveals the secret of his musical success: “You got your singers. You got your songwriters. But then you got maybe the sweetest little candy in the bowl. The interpreters.” He pounds his chest with pride. “The interpreters cry gin and tonic tears You can’t buy it. You can’t sell it. And you sure as hell can’t teach it.”
Standing at the bar of this handkerchief-sized third-rate cabaret/bar is Henry Kaiser, as George Savalas, Telly’s adoring younger brother. The men join to perform a Greek dance. While Kaiser does not resemble the familiar rotund, frizzy-haired George from Kojak,, he helps to confirm the family closeness and Golden Greek pride.
The accomplished Alex Leonard provides evocative accompaniments, some vocals, and adoring glances for Telly’s musical renditions. Taylor Negron’s direction is focused and well-paced, mentioning Telly’s personal darkness when he worked as a lifeguard and a swimmer died on his watch.
Playwright Hunter Nelson's Who Loves You, Baby? was a hit feature in the 2011 Fringe Festival before transferring to the SoHo Playhouse. It could conceivable entertain folks for years with its hilarious recall of one audacious character who tied us to our televisions for that 10 o’clock hour every Thursday. That was Telly Savalas, the man and the legend. Tom DiMenna brings him to earth for a wacky, funny, very entertaining 75 minutes.
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