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Danny & Sylvia Come to MetroStage

The original musical based on the marital and professional partnership of stage and screen star Danny Kaye and his songwriting wife, Sylvia Fine, opened a six-week run at MetroStage last Saturday. The same show premiered last year in Maryland.

“Danny & Sylvia” is an affectionate portrait of Danny Kaye penned by Bob McElwaine who, among other activities in his lengthy show business career, was Kaye’s publicist for many years. He is no stranger to writing musicals. “Danny & Sylvia” is the third project he has written with music by his long-time colleague, Bob Bain. A highly successful guitarist, Bain contributed two dozen original tunes that swing gently in the style of the big band era of the 30’s and 40’s and which carry McElwaine’s clear, uncomplicated lyrics with grace.

The production began as a project of The American Century Theater Company of Arlington, but the lack of an Arlington theater in which to stage the piece drove it to a small hall in Bethesda, Maryland in March of 2001. Its first engagement was so well received that they repeated it in September. That production, complete with its leading man, Brian Childers as Danny, has now come to MetroStage, located at 1201 North Royal Street in Alexandria.

Childers is nothing short of amazing in the role, which is why he won the Helen Hayes Award, the Washington area professional theater equivalent of the Tony, for the best actor in a musical. Those who remember Danny Kaye either from seeing him perform or watching his movies or television show will recognize his mannerisms, his persona and his talents in the performance of Childers. But this is not simply a feat of mimicry or even a theatrical impression.

WHILE CHILDERS doesn’t have the strength of voice or all the vocal dexterity of the real Danny Kaye (and who could?) he captures the essence of a Danny Kaye performance and, at the same time, creates a moving portrait of the man behind the act.

The other half of the title is “Sylvia” and that is Sylvia Fine whose songwriting skills perfectly matched Kaye’s unique abilities and whose show business savvy made it possible for her to manage his career to dizzying heights of success. Their bond, at least as presented here, was one of deep affection as well as professional reliance. But Kaye ultimately felt a need to demonstrate an ability to succeed on his own.

As the songs McElwaine and Bain wrote for the show demonstrate, their relationship went from “We Make a Wonderful Team” to “She’s Got a Great Head on My Shoulders.” But through it all, they each find that “I Can’t Live Without You.”

Playing Sylvia in Maryland was Janine Gulisano whose performance was so strong she was nominated for the Helen Hayes Award for best actress in a musical. She will return to the show for the performances in July, but those in June will have Perry Payne as Sylvia. Both Gulisano and Payne have strong, clear, powerful voices, a nice easy way with comic material and they each create a strong bond with Childers’ Danny. But Payne’s Sylvia is more manipulative, at least early in the relationship while Gulisano’s Sylvia seems to be more romantically attracted to her Danny. Two perfectly valid approaches produce two very satisfying performances.

THE SAME NIGHT THAT “Danny & Sylvia” opened at MetroStage, another production of The American Century Theater Company, “Laughter at 10 O’Clock,” opened at Arlington’s Theatre on the Run. It is a special recreation of some of the best of the sketch comedy and guest singers that drew millions to their television sets for the dozen years that “The Carol Burnett Show” ran on CBS.

For this recreation, Marshall has Nancy Dolliver, a comedian from “The Capitol Steps,” handling the role of “Carol” and all the roles Burnett played in the sketches. Bruce Alan Rauscher, shows a great flare for comedy in the bits originated by Tim Conway. He also is marvelously funny as “Sonny” in a pairing with Kathryn Fuller’s dead-on impersonation of Cher for the Sonny and Cher hit “I Got You Babe.”

Bill Karukas is almost as good a straight man as Harvey Korman was in many of these sketches, especially his Clark Gable/Rhett Butler impersonation for the classic send up of “Gone with the Wind.” Perhaps the funniest sketch in the show has Karukas as “Harvey” playing “Judge Hardy” explaining the facts of life to “Tim” as “Mickey Rooney” playing “Andy Hardy.”

Impersonations of musical guests include current comic impressions of the likes of “Steve and Eydie” (Scott Kenison and Karen Hayes) and “Engleburt Humperdink” (George Chapin).

Danny * “Danny & Sylvia” plays Thursday – Sunday evenings and Sunday afternoons at MetroStage, 1201 North Royal St. Tickets are $30. Call 703-548-9044. “Laughter at 10 O’Clock” plays Wednesday – Saturday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons at Theater on the Run, 3700 South Four Mile Run Drive near Shirlington Village. Tickets are $17-$24. Call 703-642-8502. A ticket to either show will be discounted $5 with a ticket stub from the other show.