Center Stage with Pat Launer on KSDS JAZZ88
AIRDATE: OCTOBER 9, 2009
It isn’t every city that can boast two high-profile world premieres in one weekend. But San Diego is, after all, the country’s number one exporter of shows to Broadway, so it shouldn’t be a surprise.
Both the musical and the drama have history on their side — and also working against them.
“Sammy,” the Old Globe’s musical homage to the mega-talented Sammy Davis, Jr., is constrained by the limitations of the biopic, and the too-familiar tale of a star’s rise and fall. “Creditors,” adapted from an 1888 play by August Strindberg, is also a timeless story bound by its form. The taut drama feels more predictable – though no less ruthless — than it might have a century ago.
But both shows sport stellar casts, who circumvent the obstacles with sheer force of talent.
It would be inconceivable to create a tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr. without a stunning centerpiece. The Old Globe, along with Leslie Bricusse , who wrote the book, music and lyrics, have found the perfect fit in Obba Babatundé . He’s not trying to impersonate Sammy; he’s creating a persona, a sensibility, which works excellently. The problem is, the scenarios whiz by, whether they’re light or deadly serious. So, the auto accident when Sammy lost his eye, his serial infidelities; his racial denigrations and conversion to Judaism all get fly-by, insufficient time. The show primarily celebrates the cult of celebrity; it may be what made Sammy run, but it’s the least interesting part of his life.
Bricusse , who wrote most of Sammy’s signature songs, like “What Kind of Fool Am I?’ and “The Candy Man,” penned 15?? new numbers for this show. But none is as electrifying as his early works. The ensemble is terrific, the dancing is great; the women are gorgeous. And the show does feel like it has a future. But it needs more heart, focus and arc. Still, there’s a lot of pleasure to be had in watching a fledgling musical take its first steps.
Pleasure isn’t what you get from the disturbing “Creditors”; Strindberg wasn’t one for comedy. But he could nail the dark side of marriage like nobody else. Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Doug Wright has created a whip-smart adaptation, which is superbly performed by a trio of stellar actors. Though the stranger who descends on and destroys a marital relationship is supposed to be a mystery, most discerning viewers will deduce his identity early on. But that doesn’t dampen the evil underlying his vindictive behavior, or the ease with which he poisons a loving bond. It’s an unsettling story, beautifully conveyed in a dazzling production at the La Jolla Playhouse.
Our two Tony Award-winning theaters are busy treating us, yet again, to a first glimpse of spanking new work. So what are you waiting for ?… the curtain is up.
The La Jolla Playhouse commission of “Creditors” runs through October 25 in the Potiker Theatre on the campus of UCSD.
The world premiere of “Sammy ” continues through November 8 at the Old Globe Theatre in Balboa Park .
©2009 PAT LAUNER