Danny and Sylvia: The Danny Kaye Musical
nytheatre.com review by Jason S. Grossman
May 16, 2009
To tell the story of a beloved comedian and how he rose to stardom is no easy task, especially when you're limited to two actors, a piano, and a very minimalist set. But Danny and Sylvia: The Danny Kaye Musical does just fine and provides a nice entertaining evening. Fueled by the talents of its two stars, it's a smoothly paced revue that doesn't bog itself down with heavy doses of exposition.
The musical follows Danny Kaye through the relevant years of his career from the moment he meets Sylvia Fine to their brief split and eventual reunion. While the musical pretends to tell a love story, it spends most of the time conveying key events in Kaye's life primarily through song. Theirs was an unusual partnership possibly hinged on a mutually beneficial creative partnership. Any further controversial elements are only vaguely suggested. Thus Pamela Hall directs Robert McElwaine's script sweetly and allows viewers to take away from the show what they choose to take.
Bob Bain (music) and Robert McElwaine (lyrics) have written a very good score that dominates the musical that also includes some of Kaye's most memorable performances. The numbers come often (almost too often), and there are times when one too many ballads pushes the mood a tad maudlin. But the selections are varied enough to keep the production moving. Hall's direction is sharp enough to inject a fair amount of shtick in between, and the show shines most brightly when accented with the Technicolor spirit of the musical comedies of the '40s.
Brian Childers portrays Danny Kaye with loving care and exquisite attention to vocal and physical detail. He has clearly studied the comedy legend down to his endearing smirk, and he seems to relish every move. Oftentimes, his impersonation of Kaye's singing is simply uncanny. A memorable highlight is his spectacular, dead-on rendition of "Minnie the Moocher." Childers is Danny Kaye, albeit a slightly more stylized version that occasionally just misses the manic twitching energy that infused Kaye's comedy. Indeed, we see some of Kaye's comedic genius when Childers transitions into a spastic rumba. To be sure, though, the overall presentation is still wonderful. And Childers's voice is outstanding. In addition, Childers's dual presence as the narrator of Kaye's story is beautifully done, and his transition from breathless musical number to narration is extraordinary.
Kimberly Faye Greenberg has a strong comedic presence as songwriter Sylvia Fine, Kaye's creative partner and eventual spouse. She comfortably depicts the role of loving, occasionally frustrated wife. Greenberg is an excellent match for Childers, and her singing voice is more than capable.
Josh Iacovelli's simple set design works wonderfully in the present venue and is highlighted by a terrific neon caricature of Kaye. Gene Castle has done a great job in bringing Kaye's choreography to the stage. The costumes by Elizabeth Flores are perfect.
There are some technical aspects that detract from the overall production. The spotlight operation is somewhat inconsistent and the sound effects are abrupt and muddled. The musical accompaniment could also be a bit louder. These shortcomings tended to subdue the show slightly as a whole.
Fans of Danny Kaye will not be disappointed with this production, however. Danny Kaye expressed great joy in his craft, and it's a pleasure to see Brian Childers portray him with such reverence.