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Danny and Sylvia: The Danny Kaye Musical

This biomusical about the legendary film and stage star and his wife doesn't do its subjects justice.

Brian Childers and Kimberly Faye Greenberg
in Danny and Sylvia
(© Carol Rosegg)
If you stop to think about it, there's a conundrum built right into Danny and Sylvia: The Danny Kaye Musical, now making its New York debut at St. Luke's Theatre under Pamela Hall's direction. Anyone too young to recall Kaye's heyday in the 1950s, when he starred in such hit movies as White Christmas and The Court Jester, may be clueless as to what the fuss was all about. And those who grew up savoring Kaye's antics will realize before even entering the theater that the master comic may be imitated but never bested at his own signature bits.

Bearing only the slightest resemblance to Kaye -- and lacking his goofy, loose-limbed grace -- Brian Childers tries hard to recreate the legendary star, but ultimately his exertions are exhausting just to watch. Kimberly Faye Greenberg as composer Sylvia Fine -- Kaye's early accompanist, collaborator, booster, and eventual spouse -- has easier and lesser-known shoes to fill, and she does a delightful job.

Initially resisting her attraction to the brash young performer, Sylvia eventually not only gives in to Kaye's hammy charms but ends up masterminding his gradual rise to fame from Poconos tummler to Hollywood star. There's just one little problem: Danny comes to resent Sylvia's role as both wife and manager. The conflict ought to provide sufficient friction to fuel a fairly interesting piece, but Robert McElwaine's book -- he was Kaye's publicist for two decades during the glory days -- is sadly flat-footed.

Moreover, the 21 song fragments he has scripted (and set to unmemorable, derivative music by Bob Bain) start to feel like intrusive interruptions. Worse still, they can't hold a candle to Kaye's greatest hits, especially a tour de force like the Kurt Weill-Ira Gershwin tongue-twister "Tchaikovsky."

In the end, Danny Kaye's memory -- and Sylvia's as well -- would be better served by a private Netflix film fest than by this misguided show.