The comedian, actor, dancer, singer and social activist we knew as “Mr. Wonderful” has delighted our hearts over a span of six decades with his extraordinary talent. Sammy Davis, Jr. overcame rampant racism to establish himself as an entertainment legend.
“Sammy: A Tribute To Sammy Davis, Jr.” took audiences on a journey at the Black Ensemble Theater of this iconic figure who paved the way for so many other African Americans in show biz!
The production told the story of the rise of Sammy Davis, Jr. (Michael Adkins) from where it all started in Vaudeville to his success in Las Vegas with “The Rat Pack.” Frank Sinatra (Nathan Cooper) and Dean Martin (Mark Yacullo) dubbed Sammy Davis, Jr. “Mister Show Business.”
Cooper and Yacullo as Sinatra and Martin pulled off a decent simulation of the duo. Michael Adkins played the young Sammy and it would have been nice to see the three together singing one of their old songs.
“Sammy” also took a look at the harsh racism that one of the greatest entertainers in the world had to endure in the military and at the very hotel of the nightclubs he performed at in Las Vegas.
Despite what appeared to be a free-swinging playboy lifestyle, Mr. Davis endured a lifetime of racial prejudice. This unjust reality led Davis to use his fame for political means. He was active in the Civil Rights Movement, participating in the 1963 March on Washington and refusing to perform at racially segregated nightclubs, for which he is recognized with helping integrate in Las Vegas and Miami Beach.
The tribute also highlighted Davis’ life regarding his scandalous affair with bombshell actress Kim Novak, which took place in the 1950s; however, their relationship ended because of the harassment due to racial tension. Other women in Davis’ life who loved him were his mother Rosa Davis (Rhonda Preston), his second wife, May Britt (Emily Hawkins) and his third wife Altovis Davis (Kylah Williams). They shared through song. Although this was a nice touch to the tribute, we felt that it didn’t add much validity. We were left wondering was this a musical tribute or a musical play.
The production seemed to have picked up briefly when Davis’ second wife decided to leave him. The actual dialogue between May Britt and Davis about her leaving made the tribute more interesting. It provided us with a touching portrayal of how May must have felt about Davis’ affairs with other women. Scenes like this would have brought more intimacy which could have drawn the audience more into the story. This kind of storyline balanced with Davis’ extraordinary music and talent would make this an exceptional performance; however, this little snippet that captured the personal side of “Mr. Wonderful” only left you wanting more!
One actor in particular who embodied the very essence of Davis was Kenny Davis as Sammy Davis, Sr. His ability to sing and move like Sammy (during his tribute) made you think that Sammy Davis, Jr. was actually on the stage. Kenny played Davis before, and you can genuinely tell he put in the work. Black Ensemble would be wise to rewrite this Tribute to include more of Kenny Davis. He is the one who will bring people out to see this tribute.
Emily Hawkins, Trequon Tate, and Rhonda Preston, to name a few, did a good job with their singing. However, I am an old crooner myself, and a pretty good one. Therefore, I think I can speak for the audience when I say this: I too want to listen to those Sammy songs as Sammy sang them.
Tributes are lovely when others attempt to sing the songs that famous people once sang. I (Rick McCain) am a purist when it comes to singing those songs that greats once have sung. You got to either do them justice or just don’t sing them. This is where I again believe Black Ensemble could have used Kenny Davis. In my opinion, he is the star in this performance, and he needs to shine.
Director Daryl D. Brooks gave us another fact-based production of a legendary icon that challenged us to take a look at our own lives to understand who we are, and what makes us firm in the face of adversity. Brooks, the writer, and director of this tribute do a respectable job telling the story of Sammy Davis, but we would have liked to have seen a little more acting and less narration in the storyline of Davis.
Sammy Davis, Jr.’s life was complicated yet fascinating, to say the least; this man rises to success while encountering so many hurdles that even the man himself said, “Being a star has made it possible for me to get insulted in places where the average Negro could never hope to get insulted.”
Lastly, if you are going to talk about Sammy, you have to include the name Sinatra. Like it or not during those times when Blacks were not even considered equal to Whites, Sinatra paved the way for Sammy to be the star he is today. We can’t speak against racism without thanking those like Sinatra who just saw real talent.
We recommend that you come out and support this play to understand the life of a great performer who entertained us with such songs as “I’ve Gotta Be Me,” “Candy Man” and “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head” and “Mr. Bojangles,” as well as some movie favorites as “Ocean 11” and “Robin and the 7 Hoods!”
Black Ensemble Theater Concludes 2017 Season
Sammy: The Story of Sammy Davis Jr.
Written and Directed by Daryl D. Brooks
Run time: December 9, 2017 – January 21, 2018
The Cast Includes:
Michael Adkins (Sammy Davis Jr.)
Kenny Davis (Sammy Davis Sr.)
Dwight Neal (Ensemble Member)
Rueben D. Echoles (Will Mastin)
Rhonda Preston (Rosa Davis)
Nathan Cooper (Frank Sinatra)
Mark Yacullo (Dean Martin)
Emily Hawkins (May Britt)
Kylah Williams (Altovis Davis)
Trequon Tate (George Johnson)
As well as ensemble members Linnea Norwood and Brian Boler.