Ricky Graham is so much more than "Oh, Kaye!"
A Review by Alan Smason
Monday October 01, 07
by Alan Smason, StageClick.com
It takes a madcap comedic genius like New Orleans' own Ricky Graham to do justice to another madcap comedic genius -- the star of stage and screen, Danny Kaye. In just an hour Graham and pianist-arranger-accompanist-backing vocalist Jefferson Turner breeze through 25 selections that define much of Kaye's career in "Oh, Kaye!" To this day legions of fans still marvel at Kaye's impeccable timing and breathless delivery in films such as "The Court Jester" and "Hans Christian Anderson" and Broadway shows such as "Lady in the Dark" and "Two by Two." To his credit, Graham does not attempt to sully Kaye's memory by doing an impression of Kaye. Instead, he portrays these songs with classic Ricky Graham style; the songs are representative of Kaye, but the delivery and comic manerisms are pure Graham. With lively banter and well-researched tidbits about Kaye interspersing each selection, Graham peels off layer after layer about the man locals recall as the first celebrity king of Bacchus and whose worldwide work with U.N.I.C.E.F established him as a great humanitarian.
On the personal side, we learn of his desperate love for his wife, the great songwriter Sylvia Fine, who also managed his early career. At the same time we also learn of his reputed affairs with other stars of his day like Eve Arden and Lawrence Olivier. A brilliant comic, a singer of incredible vocal ability, and a dynamic dancer, Kaye could best be described as a true renaissance man. The length and breadth of Kaye's material could well fill several more hours on stage were Graham physically able to maintain the frenetic pace at which he tackles the material. The performance begins with "Life Could Not Better Be" and the title song from "The Court Jester" and ends with "White Christmas," the song popularized by Bing Crosby in the film he starred alongside Rosemary Clooney and Kaye. In between we are treated to a veritable feast of songs written by the likes of Cole Porter, Noel Coward, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Frank Loesser, and Kurt Weill. It was Weill's celebrated "Tchaikovsky" in which the names of 54 Russian composers are reeled off in just over half a minute that promised to give Graham a run for his money. He handled the number with such effortless aplomb that only another -- Cole Porter's "Let's Not Talk About Love" -- seemed to challenge his abilities. Baby Boomers who grew up on classics like "The Ugly Duckling," "Inchworm," and "Hans Christian Anderson" will not be disappointed, but there are some other gems to enjoy like "Ballin' the Jack," "Lullaby in Ragtime," and "I'll Take You Dreaming."
With direction and choreography by Karen Hebert, Graham is all over the stage using hats taken from a hat rack located at center stage to suggest Kaye's most memorable appearances. While this Ricky Graham show features little in the way of inside jokes about New Orleans like those found in "I'm Still Here, Me" or "And the Ball and All," it is every bit as endearing because it comes straight from his heart. Audience members reveled in many of the old speciality selections like "Minnie the Moocher" and "I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts," but Graham's charm in numbers like "No Two People" and "I Like Old People" also shone through brilliantly.
With a tip of the hat to Su Gonczy for her occasional backing vocals and masterful execution of lighting and Thad Griffin on sound, proprietress Barbara Motley is to be congratulated for a fine show that should be publicized strenuously. One can only hope that it wiil again find its way to the Le Chat Noir stage sometime later after this premier three weekend run ends in just two more weeks.
-- Alan Smason