De'Zhon Fields in WBTT's Sammy Tonight!
On the one hand, it’s a shame that Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe wasn’t able to present a biographical musical about entertainer Sammy Davis Jr. as originally planned (because of another show that beat them to the rights to his story). The man’s life was certainly packed with drama, from his vaudeville childhood to facing racism during his World War II service to the Rat Pack years and beyond. On the other hand, an evening spent just listening to singer-actor De’Zhon Fields render 20 Davis-related numbers, as he does in WBTT’s current show, Sammy Tonight! goes down easy and plainly delighted the audience the night I attended.
Fields has spent several years portraying the late Davis in his own show, so he’s definitely developed a strong Sammy vibe, aided by his own natural resemblance to the man. He’s got the small, skinny physique, the slick hair, the rings on his fingers and the vocal style so reminiscent of the entertainer, who died in 1990.
Supported by a strong combo led by musical director James Dodge II and three backup singers (Santoy Campbell, Eboni Denise Lavender and Tsadok Porter), who sway, snap fingers and harmonize behind him, Fields and director Nate Jacobs present two short acts of songs with very little banter in between. But there doesn’t really seem a need to segue from one song to the other; unlike his good pal, Frank Sinatra, Davis’ singing style didn’t change that much from one decade to the next, so the selection of tunes is based more on switching gears back and forth from upbeat and swinging to more contemplative.
The show begins with the standard That Old Black Magic and quickly moves into the Davis hit (by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley) The Candy Man, giving Fields an opportunity to shake hands with everyone in the front row of the audience as he performs, before switching to the more somber mood of another Bricusse-Newley hit, What Kind of Fool Am I. Other highlights of Act I include the razzle-dazzle-y Too Close for Comfort and, of course, Mr. Bojangles, giving Fields the chance to soft shoe his way through the number in Sammy style.
Act II provides a reminder of, as Fields says, “other people’s music,” as he performs numbers more associated with Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Ray Charles. (He’s already done his Louis Armstrong impersonation with What a Wonderful World in Act I.) But his next to closing number, Gonna Build a Mountain (yet more Bricusse-Newley material), was a hit for Davis and gives Fields another chance to demonstrate the zest the man called Mr. Entertainment was known for. Whatever his life offstage, Davis lived it to the hilt onstage, and Fields conveys that energetic, show biz-loving quality.
Sammy Tonight! continues through April 1; for tickets call 366-1505 or go to wbttsrq.org.