EmptyEl Portal Theatre, North Hollywood
Through Feb. 24
Many performers have made a good living by unleashing their inner child -- Robin Williams, Steve Martin and Jerry Lewis come to mind -- but no one has done it better than Danny Kaye.
In Mark Childers and Peter J. Loewy's "The Kid From Brooklyn: The Danny Kaye Story," Brian Childers channels Kaye's irrepressible antics and tongue-twisting novelty songs with charm, flair and pinpoint accuracy.
It's odd, really, because at the show's beginning the physical resemblance isn't that strong. But as Childers sings all those wonderful Kaye classics -- "Pavlova," "Anatole of Paris," "Tchaikovsky," "Melody in 4F," "Ballin' the Jack," "Triplets," "Minnie the Moocher" -- Kaye's own mother might have trouble telling the two apart.
Act 1, beginning in 1938 when Kaye was 25, feels like a series of Borscht Belt sketches strung together to capture Kaye's rise and the innocent flavor of the times. In Act 2, as Kaye makes his way into film, the show changes to a standard Hollywood biopic style. The drama heats up as Kaye's troubled marriage to songwriter-manager Sylvia Fine (Karin Leone) and his long affair with comedian Eve Arden (Christina Purcell) take center stage.
The show doesn't whitewash Kaye, whose impulsive nature and wandering ways often got him into trouble that even his nimble tongue couldn't untwist. Fine, who helped shape Kaye's persona and handled his business affairs as well (a bone of contention between them), is expertly brought to life by Leone. She does a good job with the ballad "It Never Entered My Mind."
Purcell plays a variety of parts, among them Imogene Coca, Kitty Carlisle, Gertrude Lawrence and Vivien Leigh. Joshua Finkel has his hands full also as he skillfully runs through Billy Rose, Moss Hart, Cole Porter, Laurence Olivier and Samuel Goldwyn, among others.
As good as Childers is, it's possible to get too much of a good thing, especially when it comes to a high-energy performer like Kaye. The show runs a little long and less of Kaye's hyperbolic talent might be more. The four-piece band under Charlie Harrison and David Cohen's musical direction is top notch. Loewy directs. The piece has been extended through Feb. 24 and Kaye fans won't be disappointed.
THE KID FROM BROOKLYN: THE DANNY KAYE STORY
Playwrights: Mark Childers & Peter J. Loewy
Director: Peter J. Loewy
Lighting designer: Tyna Kennedy
Set designer: Larry Basso
Costume designer: Shon Le Blanc
Choreographer: Susie Paplow
Musical directors: Charlie Harrison, David Cohen
Piano conductors: David Cohen, Charlie Harrison
Winds: Michael Benedict
Bass: Ernie Nunez
Drums: Glenn Ochenkoski
Musical arranger: Mark Baron
Danny Kaye: Brian Childers
Sylvia Fine: Karin Leone
Eve Arden, et al: Christina Purcell
Eddie Dukoff, et al: Joshua Finkel