For the record, I wasn’t even born when Danny Kaye was at the height of his popularity, my familiarity with the late entertainer limited to his Emmy-nominated guest appearance as a wacky children’s dentist on a 1986 episode of “The Cosby Show.” So the creators of “The Kid from Brooklyn: The Danny Kaye Musical, ” at the Mercury Theater before wending its way to New York City in 2009, should know that there were moments during their tribute-cum-biographical musical when I could see how this sheer force of comic nature may have captivated audiences with his peculiar brand of puerile, warm-hearted humor. They may also be pleased to know that by the end of the evening, after more than a dozen musical numbers and dramatic highlights involving Kaye’s career and relationship highs and lows, I felt like I had come to meet the private monster behind the public crowd-pleaser. But did I understand the reasons for this dichotomy? Did I even care? And most important, did I feel that Kaye’s life—based on the organization and presentation of material here—merited the dramatic treatment? The answer to all these questions is unfortunately “No.” Musical bio-dramas are the toughest things to pull off, and those that have reached critical as well as commercial success have been aided by a catalog of hit songs (“Buddy”) to make up for bad plotting, or a strong book (“Jersey Boys”) that can take a life story that is neither unique or compelling and mold it into dramatically (or even voyeuristically) interesting material. In its present state, “The Kid from Brooklyn” has neither, save a little nostalgia for the sexagenarian, and since I assume this has probably been work-shopped to death, prospects for the show look grim outside of the obscure regional circuit. It’s a shame since the charismatic Brian Childers, as Kaye, folds childlike whimsy and a desperate eagerness-to-please into a high-octane performance that gives you a glimmer of what the real Kaye must have been like. But he doesn’t give you insight—given the inferior material with which he has to work—and his performance is ultimately ineffective. At this point, “The Kid from Brooklyn” doesn’t need an audience, he needs better writing. (Fabrizio O. Almeida)
At Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport, (773)325-1700. Thu-Fri 8pm/Sat 2pm & 8pm/Sun 2pm/Wed 2pm. $32.50-$48.50. The show is now closed.