Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
With an entertainer as great as Sammy Davis, Jr., there is no way that anyone could successfully re-create the magicthere will never be a talent like him again. He was a triple threat; he started out as a hoofer with his father and uncle in the Will Mastin Trio, did a little singing back then, and learned to do the impressions that first brought him individual prominence. A bit later he developed his vocal chops and began a recording career that lasted the rest of his life. People often think that he was more showman than singer, but he could be a great vocalist when he disciplined himself. A recording he made with guitarist Laurindo Almeida always reminds me that Sammy Davis, Jr. could have been as great a singer as his buddy Frank Sinatra if he had wanted to limit himself. Sammy's interpretation of Jerry Jeff Walker's "Mr. Bojangles" will for me be one of the greatest intersections of singer and song. Sammy had known Bill "Bojangles" Robinson and it showed in the way he plumbed the emotional depths of this tribute to a great dancer of yesteryear.
De'zhon Fields looks like Sammy Davis, Jr., is able to recreate some of his dance style, and sounds like him, singing. In the first act Mr. Fields delivers songs that were associated with Davis, including signature tunes "That Old Black Magic," "What Kind of Fool Am I?," "The Candy Man," "I've Gotta Be Me" and, as a first act finale, the above mentioned "Mr. Bojangles." In the second act he sings tunes associated with other singers and a few more of Sammy's such as "I Left My Heart in San Francisco," "The Impossible Dream," "Georgia on My Mind" and, to close the show, "New York, New York."
Herein lies one problem with the show: Sammy had enough material of his own that he did not need to sing his competition's most well known songs and, even though he and Frank Sinatra were close personal friends, they had enough show biz savvy to not steal each other's material. A stronger director might have helped develop a tighter show, one that concentrated on Sammy Davis, Jr. and brought him more authentically to life. A few things that Mr. Fields did were so untrue to this great man that I was distracted. Even with minor flaws, the aura of the magnificent showman came through. Tsadok Porter and Eboni Denise Lavender assist with back up vocals and the band led by James (Jay) E. Dodge, II offers terrific support.
Sammy Tonight sold so well that two additional performances were added before the first performance. From the reaction of the audience at the matinee I attended, it might be necessary to add even more. WBTT has announced its 2012-2013 season, and each show is scheduled for an additional week of performances, exciting news.
Sammy Tonight, presented by WBTT Theater, 1646 10th Way, Sarasota, Florida, 366-1505. Through April 1, 2012. For more information, visit www.wbttsrq.org.
Cast: De'zhon Fields, Tsadok Porter and Eboni Denise Lavender
Musicians: Jamar D. Camp: Auxiliary Keys
Director: Nate Jacobs