Regional Reviews: Washington, D.C.
Danny & Sylvia - A Musical Love Story
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Hans Christian Andersen and White Christmas are all titles that are a part of the fabric of American cinema. These beloved movies may not have had the same legacy if it were not for the unique talents of Danny Kaye. A versatile performer, Danny Kaye was as comfortable dancing with Vera Ellen as he was singing with Bing Crosby. Kaye was also known for his comedic talents and his frenetic renditions of songs filled with tongue twisters and gibberish. He was a talent to be reckoned with, but what many of his fans did not know was Kaye's successful career was in large part due to his wife, Sylvia Fine.
Sylvia Fine was a gifted composer and an astute businesswoman who used her considerable talents to further her husband's career. Many are ignorant of the fact that she was responsible for the creation of Kaye's special material, including, "Anatole of Paris." The collaboration of the two Brooklyn natives catapulted Kaye to the heights of stardom and he will stand forever as a part of show business history. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Sylvia Fine. Always behind the scenes, Fine's role in her husband's career is all but forgotten.
Luckily, Bob McElwaine and Bob Bain have not forgotten. They have presented audiences with a delightful musical called Danny & Sylvia - A Musical Love Story. Now playing at Virginia's MetroStage, Danny & Sylvia recounts the pairing of these two gifted people. As told through the eyes of Danny, the show journeys through the lives of the couple from their first meeting to Danny's ultimate success at the London Palladium. It is not always a smooth journey for this couple but it is a rewarding one.
Robert McElwaine has written a marvelous book. He captures the complexity of these two very driven people while bringing a sense of joviality to the whole piece. However, the script does gloss over some of Danny's less than finer points. The score written by McElwaine and Bob Bain is simply wonderful. The faster numbers are infectious, while the ballads are gentle and melodic. The ballad "If I Knew Then" is an especially beautiful piece that conveys Sylvia's unhappiness while showing her love for Danny. There are some other wonderful songs in this score, including a fun song called "If I Needed A Guy" and the very clever "She's Got a Great Head on My Shoulders." The score also includes songs that Kaye himself performed such as "Tschaikowsky" and "Minnie the Moocher."
Brian Childers reprises his Helen Hayes Award winning role of Danny. Childers is magnificent as the irrepressible Mr. Kaye. Although vocally dissimilar, Childers makes you feel as if you are watching the real Danny Kaye. Every gesture is perfect and he has mastered the mimicry and dialects that were such a great part of Kaye's performances. It is no wonder that the Helen Hayes Awards committee chose to honor Mr. Childers for this portrayal.
Childers' co-star, Perry Payne, is equally strong. Not only is her chemistry with Childers terrific, but she has a fine voice and is fun to watch. Ms. Payne has created a rather crafty Sylvia but she is also very good at displaying Fine's more vulnerable points.
Jack Marshall has directed this piece with a vibrancy that is fitting for a story about such a dynamic couple. The pacing of the show works well, as does the occasional penetration of the fourth wall by the Danny Kaye character.
All aspects of this show work extremely well. If there is a criticism to make, it would be that we never really get to know the real Kaye. Although we do learn about his insecurities and his resentment towards his very capable wife, one gets the feeling of watching the screen version of Danny as he acts out his personal life. All the little vocal tricks and comic gestures he used in his films are being displayed during moments that are supposed to be private.
That aside, this is a really sweet show. It is a fitting tribute to the Kayes and it will leave you with a smile on your face, as well as a swing in your step. It also may cause you to wonder how quickly you can get to your local video store to rent one of Kaye's many films. Danny & Sylvia - A Musical Love Story runs through July 28th.
Danny Kaye: Brian Childers