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Arts and Entertainment Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017 2 years ago

The Short, Happy Life of Bobby Darin

Florida Studio Theatre cabaret revue revisits the legacy of Bobby Darin.
by: Marty Fugate Contributor

Bobby Darin was a good-hearted singer. But he had a bad heart, thanks to a bout of rheumatic fever at age seven. The doctors said he probably wouldn’t live past 15. Darin proved them long, but still died young at age 37. Until then, he was a hit-making machine.

Florida Studio Theatre's “Mack The Knife: The Bobby Darin Songbook” tells the story of the singer’s brief, happy life. But that story is a side order. The revue serves up the biographical tidbits between heaping helpings of Darin’s hits.

Darin burst on the scene like a well-washed phenomenon with “Splish Splash” in 1958. (He wrote the song on a dare from Murray the K, the New York City disc jockey who later dubbed himself “the Fifth Beatle.” Don Kirshner helped with the squeaky clean lyrics.) The hits that quickly followed in 1959 could fill several episodes of “The Sopranos.”

First. “Dream Lover” and “Beyond the Sea.” Then a sea-change from pop ballads of rock ’n’ roll to the leaden moritat from “The Threepenny Opera,” “Mackie Messer”—also known as “Mack the Knife,” in Mark Blitzstein’s swing translation made famous by Louis Armstrong—with the addition of several “huh-huhs” and other lounge-lizard interjections from Darin.

Darin wanted to be the next Frank Sinatra, and he emulated the Rat Pack’s cool-cat style. As the 1960s unfolded, that style turned uncool. Especially after the Fab Four from Liverpool hit the tarmac of Kennedy Airport in 1964. Darin’s Las Vegas style took on a strong odor of cheese, babe.

Dan Faber performs. Photo by Matthew Holler

Darin fell down the charts, but soldiered on and kept a smile on his teen-idol face. With lyrics credited to Woody Harris, his mid-’60s albums boasted more pop ballads and cheesy, Vegas-style satire. His 1964 cover of “Clementine” turned the frail heroine of the original folk ballad into morbidly obese “whale.” He even flirted with country music.

But the times they were a-changin’, and Darin reinvented himself yet again as a folk singer. In 1966, he released a hit cover of Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter.” As 1967’s Summer of Love yielded to 1968’s Days of Rage, Darin’s music took on a note of protest. He campaigned for Bobby Kennedy in 1968, and wrote “Simple Song of Freedom” in 1969.

No chart-topping hits followed. But Darin’s music never failed to chart. Even when he needed an oxygen tank when he wasn’t singing.

This revue tells Darin’s story from the viewpoints of two fictitious fanboys (portrayed by Brandyn Day and Dan Faber with big smiles and finger-popping verve) from his hometown of the Bronx. These two excellent singers are backed by Zoe Speas, who is an excellent bass player and a fine singer in her own right. Speas occasionally channels Darin’s wife, Sandra Dee, as an assorted women he didn’t marry. The addition of Jim Prosser on piano and Andrew Deeb on drums makes the small band sounds like an orchestra.  

Jim Prosser, Brandyn Day, Zoe Speas and Dan Faber perform in "Mack the Knife: The Bobby Darin Songbook". Photo by Matthew Holler

This seemingly simple show has many moving parts. But story and song flow nicely and don’t get in each other’s way.

Richard Hopkins, Rebecca Hopkins and director Catherine Randazzo created this biographical jukebox, which was aptly aided by Adrienne Webber’s Vegas-style garb, Darren Server’s music direction of Prosser’s tight arrangements and the many mood swings of Thom Beaulieu’s lighting.

Between the stream of hits, you find out that Connie Francis was the love of Darin’s life; that her father chased him off with a shotgun; that the singer’s heart was broken when he discovered his “sister” was really his mother; and that Darin’s damaged heart succumbed to infection after routine dental surgery in 1973.

Those who loved Darin’s music when it first came out will love this. If you thought he was tragically unhip, this revue will make you think twice.

Darin’s short life was no tragedy.

He kept singing, swinging and smiling until the end, babe.


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