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THEATER REVIEW

Flawed, but Kaye had a silver tongue

December 17, 2007|F. Kathleen Foley | Special to The Times

As anyone with a guilty pleasure for tabloids knows, there's frequently a vast divide between a celebrity's public persona and his or her off-camera self.

Such is the case with Danny Kaye. Born David Daniel Kaminsky in Brooklyn, N.Y., of Ukrainian immigrant parents, Kaye burst into stardom in the 1941 musical "Lady in the Dark" with his rattling rendition of "Tchaikovsky and Other Russians," a legendary Broadway show-stopper that eclipsed his temperamental leading lady, Gertrude Lawrence, much to her reported ire. A flourishing movie career soon followed, along with a long stint as an ambassador for UNICEF. And Kaye's nearly 50-year-marriage to composer Sylvia Fine, a canny operator who orchestrated Kaye's rise to renown, made him seem a paragon of stability among his frequently feckless Hollywood peers.

In recent years, however, scathing anecdotes have surfaced about Kaye's often boorish treatment of people, while his omnivorous sexual exploits have been well documented.

"The Kid From Brooklyn," now in its West Coast premiere at the El Portal in North Hollywood, covers 30 or so years in Kaye's life, from his early celebrity through his cinematic heyday. The show derives its primary dramatic tension from Kaye's extramarital canoodling, particularly his long-term affair with actress Eve Arden and its effect on his marriage. There's even the occasional allusion, albeit heavily veiled, to Kaye's reported liaison with Laurence Olivier.

Mark Childers and Peter J. Loewy, who also directs, wrote the book, really just a flimsy framework for a series of Kaye's signature musical numbers. If you are not a Kaye fan, or a fan of vintage Hollywood musicals, you might find the proceedings irritatingly retro. However, those with a fondness for such razzle-dazzle may find that "Brooklyn" packs plenty of charm.

Of course, this production rises and falls with the performance of the actor who plays Kaye -- in this case, Brian Childers (brother of Mark), a silver-voiced dervish with an almost uncanny resemblance to Kaye. At certain points, the book ventures into emotional territory that strains Childers' performance. That's more the fault of the material than the actor. Abetted by a terrific four-piece band, Childers renders a stellar turn, spearheading a cast as talented as himself, including Karin Leone as the refreshingly matter-of-fact Sylvia; Christina Purcell, who plays Arden, among other roles; and Joshua Finkel, who plays several characters as well and manages to do some nifty character work along the way.

Musical directors Charlie Harrison and David Cohen contribute mightily to Loewy's solid staging, which includes a sexy rendition of "Minnie the Moocher" that will knock you out.

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'The Kid From Brooklyn'

Where: El Portal Theatre, 5269 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood

When: 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 3 p.m. Sundays

Ends: Jan. 13

Price: $40 to $50

Contact: (818) 508-4200; www.elportaltheatre.com

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

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