Tuesday, 4 September 2007

A Tribute to Danny Kaye by Russell Fletcher, Sept 4, 2007

A Tribute to Danny Kaye
by Russell Fletcher
Sept 5 in Frankston then touring Victoria until November 2007
Reviewer: Kate Herbert on  Sept 4, 2007

If you are a Danny Kaye fan, Russell Fletcher’s tribute show will tickle you. When Fletcher’s performance escalates to capture the manic energy of Kaye’s live shows and to reproduce his best-loved comic routines, Kaye’s startling talent lives.

Fletcher, accompanied by his very funny pianist Greg Riddell, inhabits Danny Kaye and bears an uncanny resemblance to the redheaded joker. He does not attempt a detailed impersonation but rather embodies Kaye’s style and vitality while recreating routines and songs from his movies (Hans Christian Anderson, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The Court Jester) and from his live shows.

It is the frenetic wordplay, galloping songs, madcap storytelling and witty interaction with the audience that conjure Kaye’s spirit. Fletcher revels in the sheer silliness of Kaye’s inventive comedy. He relates the entire story of The Little Fiddle, skilfully playing the sweet Fiddle and her evil stepfather the French Horn who is really an evil Glockenspiel in disguise. Kaye’s vocal and musical sound effects for each character never cease to amuse and amaze.

Fletcher reminisces about his childhood love of Danny Kaye and recreates his own first record of Tubby the Tuba. To create the characters, he pulls costumes and props out of an actor’s trunk that is filled with his own “emotional baggage”.

But it is when Fletcher engages directly with the audience that his own energy fuses entirely and successfully with Kaye’s memory. As the belligerent German conductor he leads Kaye’s orchestral rendition of the Flight of the Bumblebee with audience members obediently playing mime violins, flutes and triangles.

He portrays a supercilious Russian actor singing his praises of Stanislavski and appears in various manifestations of the fantasist, Walter Mitty. The tongue twisters that epitomise Kaye’s comedy and the deliciously complicated songs, written by Kaye’s wife Sylvia Fine, are plentiful. We hear the hilarious Duke, the Duchess and the Doge routine, the fifty Russian composers list as well as the notoriously difficult “The vessel with the pestle is the brew that is true.”

The show, directed by Peter Houghton, begins slowly but, by the final Court Jester song, Fletcher convinces us that we need nutty comic geniuses like Danny Kaye.

By Kate Herbert

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