Danny and Sylvia: The Danny Kaye Musical, playing at St. Luke’s Theatre in New York, is a charming though abbreviated glimpse into the lives of entertainer Danny Kaye and his award-winning lyricist wife, Sylvia Fine. Starring Brian Childers as Danny and Kimberly Faye Greenberg as Sylvia, this musical is an entertaining introduction to the talented star of movies such as The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Court Jester, White Christmas, and Hans Christian Andersen.
While the two actors play their roles admirably, the musical is disappointing in its brevity. It merely glosses over their early lives together, without really touching on the genius of their pairing, their tempestuous relationship, or the inspirational career Danny Kaye enjoyed for decades.
Although he does not sound exactly like Danny Kaye, Mr. Childers’s portrayal embodies all the physicality and musical style of the late entertainer. I thoroughly enjoyed his treatment of some of the classic Sylvia Fine numbers: “Tchaikovsky”, “Anatole of Paris,” and “Melody in 4F.” Just like Kaye, Childers fully engaged the audience in singing along and participating in “Ballin’ the Jack” and “Minnie the Moocher.” His treatment of “Minnie” also reminded us that not only was Danny a gifted comic, he was also a fine singer.
Ms. Greenberg’s portrayal of Sylvia Fine painted a perfect portrait of a brash and ambitious New York career woman of the 1930’s and 1940’s. She has the perfect look for the time period and seemed authentic in the role. While her musical numbers were good, they had a touch of the melodramatic, and were not as entertaining as the numbers Childers pranced through.
As portrayed in the musical, Sylvia was going to have to choose between a career of her own or a life of marital bliss, but in hooking Danny Kaye she found a way to have it all. She was the mastermind behind Danny’s rise to the top, a fact which no doubt engendered resentment in the male half of the team. Danny subsequently left Hollywood, where Sylvia called all the shots, to perform on his own at the London Palladium. And although he was a success at the Palladium, it was while he was in London that he realized he was better with Sylvia at his side. The pair reunited in London, with conditions that limited Sylvia’s involvement in Danny’s career. Sylvia also told Danny that she was about to have a baby. As the couple is preparing for their future as a family, the show abruptly ends.
Cutting off the narrative at this point was the biggest disappointment. Besides his movies and radio, Danny Kaye went on to a rewarding and illustrious career in television and as a humanitarian. He worked tirelessly for underprivileged children around the world as an Ambassador for UNICEF and accepted a Nobel Peace for the organization in 1965. He won an honorary Academy Award in 1955 and was again presented an Oscar as a winner of the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1982. He also had numerous Emmy and Golden Globe nominations, and in 1981 received the Peabody Award for his portrayal of a Holocaust survivor in the film Skokie and for his PBS Special, Live from Lincoln Center: An Evening with Danny Kaye and the New York Philharmonic.
Danny Kaye’s life was not without its controversies, and there are many talented and famous people whose lives and careers were affected by his. Danny and Sylvia does not touch on these stories or mention anything about his later career. Instead it only presents a snapshot of Danny’s early life, from his beginnings as a tummler in the Catskills through his days at the London Palladium. This may be enough for small audiences who want to relive their memories of his entertaining work in his Goldwyn years, but unfortunately I don’t feel that this is enough to introduce new generations to the genius that was Danny Kaye.
There are very few today like Danny Kaye — all-around entertainers who can sing, dance, do comedy, and inspire generations with their enormous talent and generosity. Perhaps it is too much talent for one musical to encompass, but that is something that I would love to see.
Danny and Sylvia: The Danny Kaye Musical is now playing at St. Luke's Theatre, NYC.
Photo: Brian Childers and Kimberly Faye Greenberg in Danny and Sylvia. Photo © Carol Rosegg