In yesterday's post, I referred to "Danny and Sylvia: The Danny Kaye Musical", which I saw last Wednesday in New York, thusly:
"Never have I had such thoroughly mixed feelings about any show I've ever seen.
It alternated between totally great and thoroughly awful, and kept shifting back and forth."
I'll now elaborate:
What was great about it----They found a guy who simply nailed Danny Kaye.
He channeled him. He captured all that was great about him.
It was as if you were seeing Danny Kaye in a great live performance.
Better, in fact.
Because it came without all of the negatives that have since been associated with Danny Kaye, the person.
From all accounts, Danny Kaye in real life was, as my friend Lenny Friefeld would describe him in his intentionally redundant way, as "a shmuck and a putz".
He would always go out of his way to snub autograph seekers.
He would go to nightclubs at dinner shows and sit with his back to the onstage performers.
In the show "Two By Two", he would intentionally wreak havoc on stage.
He would always be bragging about who he was flying around in his private plane.
He apparently treated his wife, Sylvia Fine, abusively, something not covered in the musical I saw.
But then who wanted to see that, anyway?
So watching him on clips on YouTube, or in his old movies, meant accepting his personal baggage along with him. I find this difficult to do.
It's not like Jerry Lewis, whose professional and personal persona is pretty much that of a shmuck and a putz. If you like his work, you know what you're getting going in.
But Danny Kaye's public persona was that of an erudite, charming, likeable humanitarian.
And this apparently was not him.
He was entirely a lie.
But seeing someone else in his skin, someone equally talented at being Danny Kaye, removed all that baggage, and made it really easy to watch him perform all those wonderful Sylvia Fine songs, and other material that he made famous. That's why much of this show was great.
What was godawful about it: They didn't use all those wonderful Sylvia Fine songs.
Odd, because that's what the show was ostensibly about---how her songs transformed Danny Kaye into a major star.
There were twenty-eight songs in this show.
You know how many of these they used were Sylvia Fine songs ?
You heard me. Three.
And what were the other twenty-five?
Pedestrian crappy songs, supposedly about their relationship.
One or two at least made the attempt to copy Sylvia Fine's witty style, and they sort of worked, but the rest were just pedestrian crappy songs that commented on scenes we'd just seen and didn't move the story along. I wanted to rise from my seat and say "Get on with it!!"
Has anyone ever heard of Lyn Duddy and Jerry Bresler?
Their main claim to fame, besides writing shows that never made it to Broadway, was to write the songs for "The Honeymooners" when they did a season of hour-long musical episodes.
They were the original purveyors of the Pedestrian Crappy Song.
In my early twenties, I once drove Totie Fields and her husband from New York to Philadelphia to appear on the Mike Douglas Show.
She was waxing ecstatically about having hired Lyn Duddy and Jerry Bresler to write special material for her.
I already had my attitude about them then, but didn't have the heart to tell her.
Then she started gushing about how they turn out a new musical every week for "The Honeymooners".
I did have the heart to tell her that the stuff currently on the Honeymooners was recycled from ten years previously, and simply reshot, this time in color.
She of course didn't believe me, but I still had the memory of my friend David Freitag singing those songs over and over ten years previously until I wanted to belt him in the mouth.
Those guys couldn't even turn out new pedestrian crappy songs for the occasion.
They were perfectly content recycling the old ones.
And the guys who wrote the new songs for the Danny Kaye musical were Duddy-Bresler clones.
And the ancient audience didn't notice or care.
They just wanted to see their Danny, in whatever form was offered.
It's a critic-proof show. Nothing was going to keep these people away.
And they had a wonderful time.
They just simply didn't know how good a show they could have seen.
In the dialogue, it was mentioned that Cole Porter was so impressed with Sylvia's songs that he interpolated two of them into one of his shows.
I would have loved to hear those songs.
But, of course, I didn't get to hear either one of them.
I got to hear more pedestrian crap.
The time frame for this show was the late thirties, when Danny and Sylvia first met, to 1948, when Sylvia tells Danny that he is about to become a father.
If they had extended it by a year, they could have bailed much of this show out by providing the perfect ending: Their daughter would have been born, and they could have both sung a song to the baby that Sylvia Fine wrote for "The Five Pennies" called "Lullaby in Ragtime", which has intricate two-part counterpoint melodies. In the movie, it was done by Danny Kaye and Louis Armstrong. There is, in fact, a third part, but there are only two actors on stage.
There wouldn't have been a dry eye in the house, including mine.
So they kept going back from great Danny Kaye performances without the baggage, to pedestrian crap. The latter, needlessly.
Do I really have to fix everybody's shows?
My book, "Show Runner" and it's sequel,"Show Runner Two", can be found at the Amazon Kindle Store, You can search by typing in my name, Cindy Williams, Laverne & Shirley, The Odd Couple, or Happy Days.
You might want to check them out.
You don't need a Kindle machine to download them.
Just get the free app from Kindle, and they can be downloaded to an IPhone, IPad, or Blackberry.
The paperback, "Mark Rothman's Essays" is still available for people without Kindle.
I have many readings and signings remaining, and the thing about Kindle is you can't sign one.
The website "On Screen & Beyond" has two hours of an interview I did on it's podcast in their archives.
Just Google On Screen & Beyond to find them if you're interested.
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- mark rothman
- Hi. I am, according to my Wikipedia entry,(which I did not create) a noted television writer, playwright, screenwriter, and occasional actor. You can Google me or go to the IMDB to get my credits, and you can come here to get my opinions on things, which I'll try to express eloquently. Hopefully I'll succeed. You can also e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Perhaps my biggest claim to fame is being responsible, for about six months in 1975, while Head Writer for the "Happy Days" TV series, for Americans saying to each other "Sit on it."