Sammy Davis, Jr.’s Moment To Shine
“Sammy Davis, Jr. lived his entire life as though he knew it would one day become a musical,” says Leslie Bricusse. “Lots of drama. Lots of comedy, great amounts of comedy. And a thousand songs.”
Now, almost 20 years after his death, composer-writer-lyricist Bricusse has teamed up with San Diego’s Old Globe Theatre to stage such a musical. Featuring the classic tunes that helped to make Sammy Davis, Jr. an icon, Sammy traces the struggles and triumphs of the ultimate triple-threat singer, actor and dancer.
Bricusse probably knows Davis’ work the best. A double Oscar and Grammy winner, Bricusse has written more than 40 musical shows and films, and has collaborated with an array of musical talents. Hundreds of Bricusse’s songs have been recorded by major artists, from Judy Garland and Tony Bennett to Maroon 5 and the Black Eyed Peas. Yet, no one has sung more of his songs than Davis.
“Over the years, Sammy recorded more of my songs than anybody – ever,” he says.
“The opportunity to work with Leslie Bricusse and tell the story of the great Sammy Davis, Jr. was something we couldn’t pass up,” said Lou Spisto, Old Globe Executive Producer. “Who better to give us an insightful book and a new score which includes the classics that helped shape this legendary entertainer?”
Sammy moves from Sammy Davis, Jr.’s beginnings in vaudeville through the Rat Pack years with Frank Sinatra to ultimate recognition of his lifetime contribution to American culture. The show features the classic tunes that helped to make Davis an icon, including “The Candy Man,” “Mr. Bojangles” and “What Kind of Fool Am I.”
“The concept is Sammy comes back to tell you about the great experience of his life. Some of the high points,” says Broadway veteran Obba Babatundé, who takes on the lead role in Sammy. “The only thing is you can’t have the highs without the lows. What happens is (the story) moves from being one where he is in control, to where his life overtakes him and he is caught up in it.”
While struggling with issues of identity, race and a turbulent personal life, Davis is still considered one of the greatest performers of his generation. Babatundé can attest to that. He met Davis many times, as their careers crossed paths. During their first meeting in 1978, Babatundé complimented Davis by telling him, “I want to thank you for coming in through the kitchen so I can come in the front door.” Davis also complimented Babatundé by simply saying, “You, my man, are a bitch on wheels.”
“I am utilizing the talents and gifts that I have, and stretching them a great deal,” Babatundé says. “In the show, I do everything. I sing. I dance. I do the acting. I even play a musical instrument. It is quite a journey for this entertainer.”
“But (Sammy) did everything. To get the opportunity to be a tour de force in this situation, I am attempting to simply scratch the surface. I am going to go as deep as my talents can take me, but this man was a giant.”
Though Davis crossed many boundaries throughout his multifaceted career, there was much more to him than his iconic public persona. Spisto says, “This new work is to both honor Sammy Davis, Jr. for those who knew him, and to also introduce this one-of-a-kind performer to a new audience.”
“For those who remember Sammy fondly, they are going to have the time of their lives. It’s going to transport them right back to that time when Sammy was in their lives,” Babatundé adds. “For those people who may have not had the opportunity to see him, they are still going to be entertained at the level they would see their favorite star today.”
“He was part of the great breed of African American heroes in this country,” Bricusse continues, listing, “Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, Martin Luther King, Tiger Woods, Barack Obama, the Williams sisters. Sammy belongs in that pantheon, of the people who were treated shabbily, survived prejudice, and went from being second class citizens to first class heroes.”
Babatundé echoes those statements, appropriately, with a song. “I don’t have a favorite song, but I do like the opening so much because I saw Sammy do that. It has sort of been a mantra of mine.”
That opening song is “Once In A Lifetime,” made famous by Davis in 1961. The lyrics are simple and still as powerful today as when he originally sang them.
For once in my lifetime
I feel like a giant
I soar like an eagle
As though I had wings
For this is my moment
My destiny calls me
And though it may be just once in my lifetime
I’m gonna do great things
“This is Sammy’s moment,” Babatundé says. “This is my moment. I am paying tribute to a hero.”
View clips from the San Diego Entertainer’s interview, recorded by the Old Globe Theatre.
Presented by The Old Globe Theatre
Oct. 2 – Nov. 8 (currently in previews)
The Old Globe, 1363 Old Globe Way (In Balboa Park)
Box Office: (619) 23-GLOBE [234-5623]