Danny Kaye once said it only took him 10 years to become an overnight sensation, but it took Danny and Sylvia, the bio-musical about Danny Kaye and his wife Sylvia Fine, only 8 years to move from its sensational American Century Theater opening in DC to its Off-Broadway open run. The show has changed subtitles (originally A Love Story and now The Danny Kaye Musical), revised the book, added new music and co-star, but never lost its star, the brilliant Helen Hayes Award winner Brian Childers.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw and heard Brian rattle off all those tongue-twisting Russian composers while performing “Tchaikovsky” 8 years ago. I instantly became a fan. A few months ago, I received an email from Brian inviting me to see Danny and Sylvia at St. Luke’s Theatre in NYC. He told me the version of the show that opened at American Century Theater in 2001, and transferred to MetroStage a year later, winning him a Helen Hayes Award for his energy-filled performance as the great Danny Kaye, was new and improved.
How exciting! To learn more, I talked with Brian, DC producers Jack Marshall and Carolyn Griffin and Kimberly Faye Greenberg, who now plays Sylvia Fine.
Joel: Hi, Brian. Tell us about yourself.
Brian: I’m a southern boy from Columbia, SC. I lived in DC for 5 years and loved every second. I moved to NY about 3 years ago after touring for a year. I have been singing from the time that I could walk, but I went to Tennessee Tech University and The University of SC for my Vocal/Theater Training.
Joel: What do you remember about your first stage performance?
Brian: My mother tells the story that when I was 4, I marched into the kitchen and announced that I wanted to be an actor. Mom said “There was no stopping me”.
My first stage performance was in the second grade. My school was doing a play based on the biblical story about “The Woman at the Well”. (I grew up very Southern Baptist and in a very Christian household.) I was cast as the narrator. During the performance, there was a problem with the mic. My mother says I didn’t blink, I put it down, walked to the other side of the auditorium, picked up another mic from its stand, and didn’t miss a beat. The next day I was called to the Principal’s office over the intercom and I was sure I was in trouble. He gave me an award for being professional in a time of crisis. I still have that letter framed somewhere.
Joel: Were you a Danny Kaye fan when you were a child?
Brian: Not really. I liked Star Wars, G.I. Joe, and singing in church. I didn’t study Danny until much later on. But I find that I always enjoyed his type of comedy. The frenetic energy and slapstick humor was always something that I think is hysterical and still laugh at nowadays.
Joel: When people talk about Danny Kaye, the word “versatile” always comes up.
Brian: Danny was really a genius. He could sing, dance, act, clown, and hold an audience in the palm of his hand. He was a true entertainer. That word isn’t used much these days. You have a singer, or a dancer, or even a triple threat, but Danny was much more than all those things. Danny conducted symphony orchestras, was a professional Chinese chef, a pilot and was fascinated by surgery of any kind. Versatile was definitely a way to describe Danny.
Joel: How did you prepare for this role?
Brian: I used anything I could get my hands on. I have read every book, seen every movie, watched TV shows….you name it. I really had to just immerse myself in all things Danny. When I was learning the gibberish that he did, I would record it on a small recorder and slow it down. I would then write out every word of that gibberish….for example, “Git Gat Gittle Vit a Git Gat Zay”, which was a famous sort of Danny gibberish. Then I would practice it till I could do it at breakneck speed. So even the gibberish I use in the show is really Danny’s. He was very specific.
I spoke to everyone I could about the onstage/offstage person. What was important was to not only be able to master the hands, the patter, the gibberish, the comedy, the vocal inflection of his voice, but also portray him as a human being. What was the real Danny like with in the boundaries of our play? Overall, from beginning to now, I have been studying him on and off over an 8 year period.
Joel: How do you relate to Danny Kaye?
Brian: I’m a goof and a klutz, so that’s just comes natural to me…but really I think the thing that Danny and I share is energy. Danny had a boundless energy, and I am also like that in real life and you have to have that on stage to play Danny.
Joel: Tell our readers what the show is about.
Brian: Danny and Sylvia is a retelling of his early years through 1948, when he played the London Palladium. It’s his perspective of his life and what he remembers. From his relationship with his wife, to the struggles they had, to the struggles he had. It’s a portion of his life that I believe he looks back on fondly. Danny and Sylvia had a tumultuous relationship in their latter years, but this section of his life I believe was the happiest. So it’s easier for the character of Danny to tell the story as he remembers it. If it was from Sylvia’s perspective it would be an entirely different play.
Joel: Brian and Jack – Take us back to the production at The American Century Theater in 2001, which was then called Danny and Sylvia – A Love Story.
Brian: I was in a production of Hollywood Pinafore with The American Century Theater. I was playing the role of Raif Rackstraw. When Jack Marshall and I discussed what to do with this character, unbeknownst to us at the time, we really shaped him as a Danny Kaye-type without meaning to. There was one scene in particular that Jack saw me play and apparently the lightbulb went on. Jack had had the script on his desk of Danny and Sylvia but was convinced he needed someone who really could be Danny. So when Jack saw the scene in the show he ran back to me at intermission and said, “You are going to play Danny Kaye and I have a script on my desk”. And that was the start of this incredibly long wonderful journey. The honey-voiced Janine Gulisano was the very first Sylvia, and she too was nominated for a Helen Hayes Award for her performance.
From Jack Marshall (American Century Theater): It was the Fall of 2000, and a musical I had directed for the American Century Theater, Hollywood Pinafore, was playing at Gunston’s Theater Two. At the same time, my friend Robert McElwaine, a publicist for many Hollywood stars during the Fifties and Sixties, was trying to interest me in directing a two-actor musical he had written (with music supplied by Bob Bain) about his long-time client, Danny Kaye, and his relationship with his wife, lyricist and mentor, Sylvia Fine. It was called Danny and Sylvia, and I was dubious about the project. The main source of my hesitation was that I felt that any chances of the show’s success depended on having a credible Kaye, and as a lifetime admirer of this unique performer, I couldn’t think of anyone who could play the role.
It may have been my discussions with Bob, but one night, as I watched Brian Childers (starring as a hapless Hollywood screenwriter) do a comic scene in Hollywood Pinafore, something about his moves suddenly reminded me of Danny. I had never thought of Brian as being anything like Danny Kaye before, but this one second convinced me: he could play him. After the show, I told Brian about the McElwaine show, and asked if he would be interested in doing it. “Are you kidding?” he said. “I love Danny Kaye!”
Months later. Brian confessed to me that he barely knew who Danny Kaye was.
TACT agreed to let me do a limited run workshop production of Danny and Sylvia, and Bob, who was on the board of The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, rented the organization’s theater for a limited two week run in the Spring of 2001. During rehearsals, I worked with Brian on Danny’s signature postures and moves: his expressive hands, his dancer’s stance, his loose-limbed clowning. They had been imprinted in my brain from watching every Kaye movie, never missing an episode of his CBS variety show, and seeing him live on stage. Every night, Brian went home and watched videotapes of Danny, over and over. He was especially anxious about doing Kaye’s patter songs justice: Danny Kaye was probably the greatest patterer who ever lived.
“I can’t do that!” Brian protested after I had played a series of Kaye songs for him. “Nobody can do that,” I told him. “But if you can do 75% of that, it will still be better than anyone around now.” Brian worked and worked. And by the time he was ready for the stage, he was a lot closer to Danny than 75%.
I confess: I didn’t have high hopes for the show. It was decidedly old fashioned, and many people told me that not enough people remembered Danny Kaye. Others said that Brian would never be able to evoke Danny’s special talents and stage charisma sufficiently to win over the Danny fans who remembered the original. Even Bob McElwaine was pessimistic. “I don’t see it,” he once told me.
Was I ever wrong! The Bethesda run sold out, and every performance ended with cheers and standing ovations. TACT opened its 2001-2002 season with a new production in Arlington, and despite opening on September 12, just a day after the tragedy of 9/11, it got rave reviews and full houses.
Now it’s 2009, eight years later, and Danny and Sylvia, having had seven previous productions in four states and well over 100 performances, is being produced in New York City, Off-Broadway. It is still getting cheers from full houses, and Brian Childers is, once again, Danny Kaye. Its magical success and universal appeal is one of the greatest sources of surprise and satisfaction I’ve had in my 35 years of directing. But the magic belongs to Danny Kaye, and the credit belongs to Brian Childers for making him come alive again.
Joel: Brian, what was the best advice Jack gave you about playing Danny Kaye?
Brian: First let me say, Jack Marshall is one of the smartest, funniest, craziest, most wonderful directors I have ever had the pleasure of working with. Jack is just brilliant when it comes to shaping a show and seeing what it needs. After that night when he told me that I was to play Danny. I told him I loved Danny Kaye. Truth is, I lied. At the time I didn’t know the first thing about Danny other than he was in White Christmas. I was just an actor trying to get a job. I had NO IDEA what I was getting into. It wasn’t till much later that I confessed this to Jack.
The one thing that Jack taught me in the basement of his house where we held rehearsals with the two of us was “COMMIT, COMMIT, COMMIT” Commit to the moment, Commit to the zaniness, commit to the patter, commit to the hands, etc.
There were so many moments I looked at Jack and said, “I can’t do this!” He said I could and that I should commit to it and it would work. He was right, and I take that advice with me every time I step on stage regardless of the role. I loved every moment of that rehearsal process. When we weren’t crying, we were laughing through the whole thing.
Joel: Brian and Carolyn: Let’s talk about Danny and Sylvia at MetroStage in 2002.
Brian: I believe the only thing that changed was including the song “Anatole of Paris”, which was important because we talked about how Sylvia’s music influenced Danny and we needed to have a real Sylvia number to show how that happened. It made all the difference.
From Carolyn Griffin (MetroStage): We had a great run of Danny and Sylvia. We fell in love with Brian and knew at that time he was born to play Danny Kaye. I am thrilled that it is now in New York and wish him and the show the very best.
Joel: I was at the Helen Hayes Awards ceremony in 2002, when you won the Award for Best Actor in a Resident Musical. What do you remember about that night?
Brian: That night was a blur… I really wasn’t expecting to win. I was sure that Michael Rupert was going to win for A New Brain at Studio. When they called my name I couldn’t believe it. Jack ran down the aisle and gave me the biggest bear hug ever. It was surreal and wonderful.
Jack Marshall: Brian’s channeling of Danny Kaye went from admirable to expert to eerie, and even though the Helen Hayes Awards seldom recognize performances from small theater companies, nobody was surprised when Brian Childers won the 2002 Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Performance in a Musical.
Joel: Tell us about Danny and Sylvia’s journey from MetroStage to St. Luke’s.
Brian: Oh, I could write a whole book on this process. I will try to keep it simple….here goes. After Metrostage the show went to NYC for a festival called the Chip Defaa festival. It was directed by the fantastic Tommy Walsh and Perry Payne was a wonderful Sylvia. The show got great reviews, but didn’t get picked up for a real commercial run which is what we were hoping for.
So many years passed. I had moved to NYC and received a call one day from a producer by the name of Hy Juter. He wanted to remount Danny and Sylvia for backers in NYC and try again for a commercial run. We put it together and did 5 performances at the Forum Theater in NJ. Again, no dice for a commercial run and I believed that it was the end of the show as I knew it.
I was then approached by the artistic director of that theater to start a new Danny Kaye project written around me that included all Danny Kaye music. This was to be The Kid from Brooklyn. We took that show to Florida, LA and Chicago. The show, which was successful in the beginning, had changed so much and folded in Chicago. I received an email from the producers/directors of that show saying they had no future plans for the show. So again, I thought that was the end. THEN, I received another call from Hy Juter again wanting one more try with Danny and Sylvia, but including more Danny numbers than what we started with.
We met with him and another producer, held a one night only backers audition in NY and got the money we needed and FINALLY opened at St. Luke’s Off-Broadway in May. It has been an amazing journey.
Joel: How has your performance changed since we saw you at MetroStage?
Brian: OH! From MetroStage till now…it is TOTALLY different, and hopefully better. I have been able to spend so much more time understanding how to play this iconic character that I keep peeling layers and layers off to dig down deep into understanding how it all works. Most actors don’t get the luxury of diving into a character for such a long period of time. Just when they really get a character down the show is over, and it’s time to move to the next one. I have been living with this character for many years and there is so much more to learn about him and how to portray him. To understand the subtleties of this person, and perform it over and over, is a real treat for an actor and I hope it shows in my performance. Truly, I am having more fun playing Danny this time than I ever have before.
Joel: Robert McElwaine wrote the book and co-wrote the score with Bob Bain. Tell us about working with them, their score and book.
Brian: Working with Robert McElwaine was amazing. He had so many stories and was an invaluable help in discovering how to play Danny. The trick to working with the score in the beginning was to figure out how Danny would have performed these songs. In the original show we only did two Danny numbers so we had to find a way to make the Danny we know and love come alive in every number. The score and the book have been trimmed for this current production to include more Danny songs, which people come expecting.
Joel: Talk about the physical demands of playing Danny Kaye.
Brian: Well, I have to go to the gym to keep in shape. Also, I have to watch what I eat because Danny was so thin. The role itself is a marathon. You really have to have stamina, and energy from the start of the show to the end. You can’t waver or the audience won’t believe it. If you look like you are working too hard it makes the audience uncomfortable. One of the hardest things is that you have to make the whole thing look easy like Danny did. It’s a mammoth part and presents so many challenges.
Joel: You have worked with other actresses who have played Sylvia Fine. What makes Kimberly Faye Greenberg’s Sylvia unique and special?
Brian: I have had a total of six Sylvias all told. Each one was very different. One was Vietnamese, one was southern, one was Italian, but Kim is a true Jewish girl. When performing this show in NYC with people who knew both Danny and Sylvia, it was essential to find someone who really got that aspect of the character. The wonderful thing about Kim is that she doesn’t have to try. She naturally is Sylvia Fine. She has the same drive, and the same discipline, and the same chutzpah that the real Sylvia had. She even looks incredibly like her.
But, most importantly, it’s the chemistry that we have onstage. Kim and I have been through a lot together where this show is concerned. Kim played Sylvia in Florida in the other production, The Kid From Brooklyn, and was promised to go forward with that show to both LA, Chicago and hopefully NY. Through no fault of her own, the part was taken away from her. So it is so great that all of this has come full circle and she and I get to be together again Off-Broadway in a show and roles that are so dear to both of us. I think that journey has helped us become very close onstage and offstage….oh, and we also are neighbors. We literally live next door to each other. That helps too.
Joel: Why do you think Sylvia Fine and Danny Kaye worked so well together professionally?
Brian: I believe they were a perfect team. He knew how to make her lyrics come to life. She knew how to channel that manic energy and focus it into the elegant, easy, wonderful performer that Danny was. They were made for each other professionally. Personally, they had a lot of conflict, but truly no one could do Sylvia’s material better than Danny.
Joel: Tell me something about Brian Childers that only his friends and family know.
Brian: There was a time in my life when I thought about becoming a music minister/pastor and was one for about two years before the stage called me back. It’s just where I want to be more than any place in the world.
Joel: You have worked at The Kennedy Center, Studio Theatre, American Century Theater and Olney Theatre. Tell us about the roles you played, and which role was your favorite?
Brian: Probably my favorite role I have played other than Danny was playing Emory in the Boys in the Band. It was my first professional role and my first role in DC. I was beyond blessed to work along such actors as Chris Stezin, Mark Rhea, Eric Lucas and other great actors from the DC area. It was at the American Century Theater, which I still feel is my home theater. One day, I want to come back and do a show with them again because I truly love all the people there. The production that was the most fun and thrilling was a short lived show called 90 North at the Kennedy Center. It was a show about Admiral Perry’s trip to the North Pole. The music was incredible and I was fortunate enough to work with Liz Callaway, and Deborah Tranelli on a terrific show.
Joel: Why do you enjoy working in and with the DC theatre community?
Brian: Because it really is a community. People really come together to support each other in everything. I felt like the DC theater was my home and I think one day when I am done with NY, I would like to come back, settle down, and get right back into that environment. People are there because they love what they do, and they love the work that is being done.
Joel: Tell us about yourself.
Kimberly: Well, I have been living in NYC for about 9 years now. I have performed regionally, Off-Broadway, in tours, children’s theatre and film and TV. I’ve also worked as a performer with several charitable organizations, done a lot of cabarets, cruise ships, and other gigs.
I’m from California where I went to school at the University of CA, Irvine. And, I have to say, that it was some of the best “school” training I could have received. Not only did it have great theatre training, it also taught me about the “business” side of the performing industry, like my marketability, how to audition and put together an audition book, what my resume should look like, how to network, etc.
The school also had a special program where they take some chosen musical theatre students to study in NY for a month. I was lucky enough to participate, and I got to experience auditions, work with professionals, take classes and experience being a NYC actor. That was what convinced me that I wanted to move here.
When I finished college, I started working regionally right away. Then, while I was touring in a show on the east coast, I decided to take a leap of faith and literally moved to the city the day I finished my contract. It sounds so cliché but I literally had two suitcases and a few hundred dollars! And, I can honestly say that it was the best life decision I could have made!
I’ve continued to train since I’ve lived here in NY. I don’t think I ever will not take class or a lesson – it helps me stay on my game and reminds me that I always have things to work on.
Joel: When did you first get the “theatre bug”, and what do you remember about your first stage performance?
Kimberly: I got the theatre bug in the 4th grade. I was living in Virginia at the time. My best friend and I wanted to take be in a show, because we loved watching the show “Kids Incorporated” (about a group of kids in this performing band) and we wanted to be like them. So…our parents put us in a play at The Little Theatre of Alexandria. I remember the show was called “Four Little Words” and I had this long monologue at the end at the play. I distinctly remember that when I took the stage to say it, I knew I wanted continue to perform for the rest of my life.
Joel: Who was Sylvia Fine, and why is she someone that most people don’t know about?
Kimberly: Sylvia Fine was Danny Kaye’s wife. She grew up in Brooklyn and was an accomplished composer/lyricist. More importantly, Sylvia was the driving force behind Danny’s career. She wrote many of the songs that made him famous, and also acted as his manager, lawyer, agent and accompanist. Most people aren’t as familiar with Sylvia as she stayed out of the public eye and really had no desire to be well known in the scoop of the general public.
On the other side of the coin, she was quite ahead of her time as far as getting ahead in the show business realm. In the 40’s it was pretty much a man’s business. Sylvia, knowing this, took it upon herself to go up against the big movie studio moguls and Broadway producers, composers, lyricists, etc. to propel Danny’s career upward, which, consequently, propelled her career forward as well.
Joel: How did you prepare for the role of Sylvia Fine?
Kimberly: The first thing I tried to do was to find as much video footage of her as I could. In the 70’s she co-hosted 2 television specials with Danny about hit Broadway musicals of that time. I was able to watch those and see the dynamic between the two of them. I then got my hands on any written material I could find about the relationship between Danny and Sylvia (biographies, news clippings, magazine articles, and researched the internet). I then just used my imagination to try to fill in the blanks of how I thought she would honestly have thought, felt and acted.
Also, what was helpful and awesome about Danny & Sylvia was that it was written by Danny Kaye’s former publicist, Bob McElwaine, and he was able to share with both Brian and me personal information about their personalities and actions.
Joel: How do you relate to Sylvia?
Kimberly: I can relate to Sylvia a lot! We are both Jewish and surprising look very similar! If you put a picture of the two of us together you would think we could be the same person! Personality wise, we are both driven, and go after what we want and…more importantly, we both have what I like to call “Chutzpah”! Ha! Ha! Ha!
Joel: When were you asked to play Sylvia Fine in the show?
Kimberly: For this particular version, about 6 months before we opened. Luckily I had worked with Brian on another incarnation of a musical about Danny Kaye’s life which is what led me to this.
Joel: What’s it like working with Brian Childers?
Kimberly: This is going to sounds cheesy – but Brian is a “dream co-star”. We completely trust each other on stage and can completely let go and have no fear. It’s great to know that I can go into a show every day with someone whom I can remain emotionally connected and vulnerable. What’s also great is that Brian and I definitely have the kind of chemistry that every actor hopes will happen when cast in a role that requires a “being in love” relationship. We feed off each other’s emotional energy and there are never any awkward moments as far as when we are required to show our emotions physically.
I am sure that what helps our “chemistry” is that, not only have Brian and I been working together for several years, but… we are also neighbors! Yep, we literally live right next door to each other in the same apartment building. Wall to wall!
I have to admit I always go over to his place in search of chocolate! He keeps a great stash above his cupboard! For both of us, the doors are always open in case we need something or just want to chat. So, when not playing husband and wife onstage we are a “real-life” version of “Will and Grace”….literally! Now we just need to find ourselves a Jack and Karen …perhaps when the next apartment in the building becomes available we will put out a casting notice in “Backstage”… Ha! Ha! Ha!
Joel: When you are not on the stage, you work backstage as a Broadway wardrobe dresser.
Kimberly: Yes, for over 7 years now. It’s my “day job”, and it’s how I pay the bills when I am not performing. I have been blessed with what is really a great actor job, because, for the most part, I work at night and can audition during the day.
I’ve worked on over 10 Broadway shows. Right now, I dress at Billy Elliot, but I’ve also worked at Grease, Spring Awakening, Curtains, Tarzan, Sweet Charity, Aida, The Lion King, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, The Drowsy Chaperone, How The Grinch Stole Christmas, just to name a few. What makes me unique is that I mainly work as “Wardrobe Dresser Swing”, meaning I fill in at a show when a dresser needs to take a vacation or is sick. I can learn up to 15 dresser tracks on a particular show (depending on the amount of dressers a show has) and I can swing on more than one show at a time….sometimes in a weeks time I could “dress” at 3 or 4 different shows.
Joel: Tell us what a wardrobe dresser does.
Kimberly: A dresser basically helps the actors get in and out of their costumes during the course of a show. It can involve pre-setting clothes, emergency repairs – and most importantly – quick changes from one costume to another. Dressers don’t only just work during performances either; sometimes shows require dressers to come in during non-show times to prep the clothes (steaming, ironing, etc.).
Joel: Who are your favorite stars to “dress”?
Kimberly: In my time as a dresser I have worked with a lot of stars and chorus folks, many of whom are still my friends. So, its really hard to pick out any favorites, and probably wouldn’t be fair for me to single out any individuals.
However, with that said, as a whole, I would have to say that the cast of the The Lion King holds a special place in my heart because it was the first Broadway show I ever dressed. I was a swing there for over 3 years, and I dressed every cast member in what can be said are probably the most unique costumes on Broadway. You have never lived as a dresser till you have put someone in a giraffe costume whilst climbing the back of a ladder at the same time. Ha! Ha! Ha!
What was also unique about that experience was that the folks there knew I was also a performer, and I got to sing and dance alongside the company members in many BCEFA benefits and other cast performance opportunities.
Joel: Tell us something about Kimberly Faye Greenberg that only your friends and family know.
Kimberly: I keep scrapbooks of all the shows I have been in or worked on. Nothing fancy as I don’t have time for that…but I like to document everything I’ve done and I keep everything so that I can look back on it during hard times or to see how far I’ve come. And, hopefully it will be a great momento for when I have kids.
Joel: You have appeared in both musicals and plays. Besides Sylvia, what has been your favorite role, and why?
Kimberly: That’s a tough question, because actually Sylvia is at the top of my list right now. I would have to say that Hodel and Tzeitel in Fiddler on the Roof are probably runners up. I’ve played each of those roles several times and Fiddler on the Roof holds a special place in my heart. It was the first musical I was ever exposed to, and to top it off, being a Russian Jew, the story is a real part of my family’s history. My family came to America in a large part due to the pogroms that happened in the eastern European countries.
Joel: How would you describe your performance as Sylvia?
Kimberly: Grounded, loving, but focused on the “ultimate goal” of making her husband a “star”.
Joel: Is your interpretation of her in this show different from the way you played her in The Kid from Brooklyn: The Danny Kaye Story?
Kimberly: Actually, very, very different. Needless to say, although based on the same person, Danny & Sylvia is an entirely different show than The Kid From Brooklyn, and so my interpretation and performance of Sylvia is also completely different.
None of my character choices from when I did The Kid From Brooklyn, translated into this version, so I started over from scratch to rediscover this woman whom I thought I already knew. Turns out, that I think Sylvia in Danny & Sylvia is much more realized and true to who the real woman was. With Danny and Sylvia being a two person musical, Sylvia is half of the show, and thus the role is very fleshed out!
I, as Sylvia, grow and change. I start out very young, innocent, eager and ready to conquer the world and then I fall in love with Danny and Sylvia’s vulnerable side comes to the forefront of the story. Then, when Danny starts to rise to fame, my hunger for more control kicks in, as well as my determination to create a star.
Sylvia truly has an entire arc in this show and this didn’t really exist in The Kid From Brooklyn. To make sure that this worked, I had to approach Sylvia from fresh eyes to create a grounded, open and honest human being – one that the audience would be willing to go on a journey with for 2 hours.
Joel: Brian and Kimberly, what has director Pamela Hall contributed to your performances?
Brian: Pamela really approached this production completely different than any other. She sees it as a book show and the relationship is really the story. Not so much Danny’s personal journey. This changes the whole dynamic of the show. The intentions we play are new and fresh. The play is about two people who have to understand each other and choose to accept each other with all their faults and learn how to love and live with each other. It’s not just a Danny Kaye show. It’s really about both of them.
The most important thing that Pamela keeps telling me is that I don’t have to try so hard. My job is to believe that I am Danny Kaye and the audience will believe it as well. Not to demand that I am Danny but just to be Danny. It sounds a little esoteric but I tell you it has changed my performance entirely.
Kimberly: Pamela is a fantastic director and really helped to bring together all aspects of this particular production. Making a two person show work with minimal sets, costumes, and lighting is a difficult task, and Pamela really made everything flow seamlessly. It really takes someone with an eye for detail and nuance to pull this off, and she did!
Pamela’s advice will always stick with me, not only with this show but into my future roles….to always find joy in all the work we do when we approach the characters, as well as in who we are as performers!
Joel: You each have some wonderful songs in the show. Tell us about one.
Brian: I would say doing the number “Tchaikovsky”, [is the biggest challenge] not because of the Russian names, because at this point I can do it in my sleep, but to make it look like it’s the easiest thing in the world. Each time I do this show in whatever form, there is another hurdle to capture. When I first started the process it was just to get everything out. Then the next time it was to keep the energy up. Then the next production it was to master the hands, etc. But now it’s to throw all of that away and relax, have fun, and make it look like it’s the easiest thing ever….when in all truth trying to make it look easy is the hardest thing in the world. You just keep layering the process each performance.
Kimberly: What’s great is that I get to sing most of the original material in the show. And there is one song called “Can’t Get That Man Out Of My Mind” that Brian, Pamela and I have deemed my “3 Act Play” moment so to speak. Within the scope of one entire song, I go through a complete metamorphosis – first dealing with anger, then sadness and then coming to a decision to move forward in my life. It’s really a great acting moment and a challenge to make it fresh and real every night.
Joel: Tell us something about your characters that most people do not know.
Brian: I believe that Danny had a lot of demons that we don’t deal with in this show….that’s a whole different show. I believe that Danny was bipolar and/or suffered from manic depression, before it was really diagnosed. Danny went to therapy three times a day, five times a week for psychoanalysis. That’s a lot to work through. But regardless of his offstage persona or demons he never let an audience down. He was always the most at home onstage in front of a live audience.
Kimberly: Most people who know of Danny & Sylvia’s relationship think that it was only “business” based. Honestly though, when I put together the pieces of Danny and Sylvia’s history, I fully believe that they did love each other for love’s sake for a long time. Now, whether or not it lasted a lifetime, we will never know as they both had their “rumored” infidelities. However, in saying that, they did stay married to each other for their entire lifetime. Danny & Sylvia’s relationship certainly wasn’t picture perfect, but it worked for them and it was what they both needed in their lives.
Joel: What role would you love to play that you haven’t played yet?
Kimberly: That’s easy! Fanny Brice hands down. I know the entire script and score for when the opportunity comes along. I am chomping at the bit to play her and am ready to bring a house down with “Don’t Rain On My Parade”!
Brian: Mama Rose in Gypsy…..LOL Just kidding! There are so many! I would love to play Molina in Kiss of the Spiderwoman, Barnum in Barnum, Leo Bloom in The Producers, Leo Frank in Parade, or Harold Hill in The Music Man ( I played Harold in high school, and want a real crack at it again), Alex in Aspects of Love, and the list goes on and on…
Joel: What advice would you give young actors who are considering a career in the theatre?
Brian: There are two things that I would tell them:
1. If there is anything else you can do ……do it. I can’t do anything else but be an actor. I feel called to it and it is what I feel I am supposed to do. This career is not for the light hearted. You have to have a tough skin for constant rejection. So unless you are 1000% sure that this is what you want…try something else.
2. Once you have decided that…..You have to treat yourself as a business. You are the product and the more that you have in your bag of tricks the more you will be hired. Nowadays it’s not enough to just sing, You have to be a triple threat and more. You have to be able to do gymnastics, play instruments, juggle, walk on a tightrope, whatever you can do……You have to look at yourself as a business and be able to market and sell yourself better than anyone. It’s a tough world out there and our career is no different. You have to show them why they have to hire you every time you walk in the door.
Kimberly: Don’t ever give up! Surround yourself with people who support you, but also with teachers and mentors who are willing to give you honest and constructive criticism of your work and what you can do to make yourself better as a performer. Find a day job that supports your “performing” aspirations. Get someone who can teach you the business side of performing and how to market yourself as an individual. Never be afraid to take risks and to show people what makes you stand out from the crowd.
Joel: Please invite DC theatergoers to come see the show.
Brian: It is a wonderful, fun, uplifting, evening of theater. You get great songs and an interesting story. It has changed a lot since the first run and has really grown over the years.
Kimberly: Danny and Sylvia is an intimate, grounded portrayal of the early life of American Icon, Danny Kaye, encompassing some of Danny’s greatest hits as well as some original material. The show will take you on a journey, leave you smiling and perhaps, and as some audience members have said give you that nostalgic feeling of days gone by.
Danny and Sylvia: The Danny Kaye Musical plays at St Luke’s Theatre, 308 West 46th Street, in New York City. Performances are on Wednesday, Saturday & Sunday at 2 PM, and Saturdays at 8 PM. Call 212 239-6200 or
Interview by Joel Markowitz
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