Everyone’s A Critic

The Boston Globe

Spacey casts a convincing spell during Darin tribute By Steve Morse, Globe Staff  December 13, 2004

Kevin Spacey’s acting credentials may have drawn a sold-out house of curiosity seekers to the Somerville Theatre last night, but it was his singing that kept them there. Spacey, who stars as Bobby Darin in the upcoming film ”Beyond the Sea,” is on a mission to reintroduce Darin to the public. He’s on a 10-city tour performing Darin’s songs in front of a big band orchestra. And it’s no joke, because Spacey is so enthralled with Darin — he used to sing Darin’s songs into a hairbrush when he was a kid — that the passion spilled over to the mixed-age crowd, which extended him a heartfelt standing ovation at night’s end.

”It was worth the ride down from Bangor!” one woman yelled.

Spacey fielded the remark graciously, which was the way he conducted this entire 90-minute show. He kept the focus on Darin (”We’re here to celebrate one of the finest entertainers we’ve ever had,” he said early) and never talked about himself or gave the slightest hint that he was Hollywood royalty after making such films as ”American Beauty” and ”L.A. Confidential.”

Performing in a tuxedo, Spacey conveyed all of Darin’s personalities — from teen idol (on ”Splish Splash,” ”Dream Lover,” and ”Mack the Knife” from the late ’50s) to nightclub crooner (”Fly Me to the Moon” and ”My Funny Valentine”) and late-period folk singer (Tim Hardin’s ”If I Were a Carpenter”). All of these phases spanned a relatively brief career that ended in 1973 when the New York-born Darin died of heart failure at 37.

Spacey is 45, but perhaps buoyed by his acting instincts, he was convincing on each stop of Darin’s career. Spacey opened with the snappy swing of ”Hello Young Lovers” and ”Sitting on Top of the World,” giving the impression that this was not going to be a dull, formulaic evening. He didn’t have the most powerful voice, but he was on pitch throughout and his expressiveness was superb. He made the songs come alive, whether finger-snapping through ”Mack the Knife,” scatting to climax ”Beyond the Sea,” or capturing Randy Newman’s ”Sail Away.” He also flashed Darin’s mimicking ability on talking impressions of Marlon Brando, Jimmy Stewart, Katharine Hepburn, and Jerry Lewis.

It was thoroughly entertaining — and Spacey added a number of Darin-related songs that are not in the film. He also was a surprisingly strong bandleader, though he had a lot of help from pianist Roger Kellaway, who backed Darin in the ’60s. The rest of the group ranged from an 11-piece horn section (hired locally) to touring members entailing a guitarist, bassist, drummer, and two volcanic singers in Felice Hernandez and Amy Keys, who brought the house down with a gospel flourish on Simon & Garfunkel’s ”Bridge Over Troubled Water.” A job well done.

Kevin Spacey
Phil Gallo, STAFF

In concert, the tuxedoed actor captures Darin’s phrasing and holds notes splendidly, yet never exerts a command of the material and far too often swallows words at the end of a line. Tonally, they are slightly different singers, part of which may just owe to the fact that Darin made his best-known recordings in his mid-20s and Spacey is a score older.

Also, Darin evolved from a teen idol with a novelty hit to crooner to folk singer, and in each persona shaped his voice to service the material. Spacey, whose previous singing was limited to summer stock, Juilliard and Chatsworth High School, doesn’t have that luxury.

But Spacey gets to deliver something Darin never was able to do in his 37-year lifetime — a career retrospective that celebrates each moment with reverence and full-bore effort. Armed with stories of Darin’s life and, of course, the ambitions of the film, Spacey was able to set each song in perspective, either historically or personally.

Not surprisingly, the better known the song, the better the perf. Spacey opened with a bouncy “Hello Young Lovers,” held notes splendidly on lively readings of “Mack the Knife” and “Beyond the Sea,” and gave Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter” a record-perfect rendition. With guest Peter Cincotti, who plays Dick Behrke in the film, on piano and vocals, the two had a ball of fun with “Splish Splash.”

Yet by staying true to Darin’s work, it meant the inclusion of some rather bombastic arrangements the singer used for TV perfs in the early 1970s when television aimed to soften the rockers and update the crooners. Hence, his versions of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” — a song that’s remarkably tough to sing convincingly — Randy Newman’s “Sail Away” and “Can’t Take My Eyes off You” were nuance-free and dated in a cringeworthy way.

Helping bring the sound of authenticity to the evening was pianist and musical director Roger Kellaway, who worked with Darin throughout his career. On Jan. 18, he, too, joins Darin-mania with the release of the album “I Was There: Roger Kellaway Plays From the Bobby Darin Songbook.”

Spacey will play Rose Hall in the new Jazz at Lincoln Center on Tuesday. The 10-show tour ends Dec. 26 and 27 in Las Vegas at the Stardust Hotel.

Presented by Clear Channel and Budweiser. Reviewed Dec. 6, 2004.

Band: Kevin Spacey, Roger Kellaway, Gregg Field, Chuck Berghofer, John Chiodini, Amy Keys, Felice Hernandez, plus 11-piece horn section.

“This is all about putting the spotlight back on Bobby Darin,” Kevin Spacey told the considerable crowd at the Wiltern as his 90-minute, all-Darin show was coming to a close. He has launched a short tour to coincide with the Lions Gate release of his Darin biopic, “Beyond the Sea,” and its Rhino soundtrack, providing an evening of song that goes beyond the film to showcase the breadth of Darin’s work. As reasonable facsimiles go, it’s pretty entertaining.


Joel Selvin, Chronicle Senior Pop Music Critic
Tuesday, December 7, 2004

Talk about method acting. Not content to have merely produced, directed, written and starred in a movie about the life of vocalist Bobby Darin, Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey brought his stunning evocation of Darin’s live act to the nightclub stage, where there are no retakes, no fancy camera angles and no stand-ins.

Appearing at Bimbo’s 365 Club on Sunday, human dynamo Spacey is doing a whirlwind, 10-city tour in time to whip up enthusiasm for his film, “Beyond the Sea,” which opens in theaters Dec. 29. No one knew exactly what to expect, but tickets to the show were snapped up as soon as they went on sale and, outside the club on Sunday, people were offering hundreds of dollars for a pair.

About halfway through his 90-minute act, someone in the crowd screamed out in approval. “You’re good,” the voice yelled. “The first reviews are in,” Spacey laughed. “I’d take that — ‘You’re good — San Francisco Chronicle.’ ” He isn’t good — he’s great — San Francisco Chronicle.

In a virtually flawless performance, Spacey miraculously channeled the sound, the spirit, the style of Bobby Darin, the neglected pop singing great who died at age 37 in 1973 after his heart, severely damaged by rheumatic fever as a child, finally gave out in the middle of an eight-hour surgery.

In his bizarre, fanciful movie, Spacey, who never looks fewer than 10 years too old for the part, sings as many as a dozen songs, quite impressively, in a tour de force performance as the late pop singer. But that’s nothing compared with doing 90 solid minutes of material, rehearsed to a fare-thee-well with a swinging 18-piece orchestra under the baton of Roger Kellaway, onetime Darin musical director.

A film star has many tricks to fall back on when making a movie. Out there on the stage at Bimbo’s, Spacey was all alone, without a net. Spacey’s ear for Darin’s voice is the highly refined tool of a master actor. He absorbed nuance, detail and the little ad libs with which Darin punctuated virtually every performance. He copied Darin’s trademark mike technique and swagger, but what he does goes far beyond mimicry.

There’s a scene in “Beyond the Sea” where Darin is trying to explain to his wife, Sandra Dee, why he was leaving their home again to go out on tour. “Nightclubs are reality,” he tells her, “not this phony movie stuff.” Like all obsessive performers, Darin only truly lived and breathed onstage. The audience’s applause was love to him and he put his life on the line with every performance.

It was like that for Spacey at Bimbo’s, and that kind of emotional roller coaster can’t be imitated or conjured. He came out swinging with the up-tempo “Hello Young Lovers” that he used in the movie, breaking into Darin’s signature, “Mack the Knife,” on the third number, drawing out the familiar instrumental introduction while he sipped water and snapped his fingers until everyone in the crowd knew what was coming next. “Three guesses,” he said.

He pored over the whole Darin songbook, unearthing nuggets such as “Ace in the Hole,” “Sittin’ on Top of the World” or “The Curtain Falls,” the sentimental closer. Nor was he afraid to face up to Darin’s schlockiest, loungiest tendencies — his upbeat cover of Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You” or the overwrought version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” were pure Darin at his ’70s seamiest. He even re-created Darin’s specialty number of “One for My Baby,” complete with spot-on Darinesque impressions of Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Johnny Carson, Jimmy Stewart and Jerry Lewis.

On top of his confident, bravura vocal performance, Spacey handled himself with immense dignity, kidding affably with the audience, handing out sincere show business homilies and self-effacing asides (“I don’t do this for a living,” he said, apologizing to folks at a front-row table for blocking their view with his music stand). But he never lost the focus of his tribute.

Spacey called it “my obsession with Bobby Darin,” and early in the show he said that he considered Darin an unjustly ignored figure and that all he wanted to do was “put the spotlight back on Bobby.” This extraordinary encomium is practically without precedent in Hollywood. The two-time Oscar-winning Spacey is a big enough star to make his Bobby Darin movie happen. But he could have easily stayed home afterward, done a few phone interviews and checked the grosses in Variety like every other movie star would have. That he wanted to put himself through the grueling, taxing challenge of going out in the nightclubs — Darin’s reality — and actually doing Darin’s act is an amazing testament to his beautiful obsession. That he did it so completely, totally and lovingly makes it all the more beautiful. This guy Spacey is one for the books.



Concert review: Kevin Spacey channels Bobby Darin

The rap on Kevin Spacey is he’s too old to play ’60s pop idol Bobby Darin in the new biopic, “Beyond the Sea.”

And, OK, there may be a little rust on his ring-a-ding-ding, and his forehead shoreline may be moving north, but when it comes to Darin, Spacey is a man on a mission, dedicated to bringing the singer, who died in 1973 at age 37, back into the spotlight.

His affection burst through big time Sunday night on the stage of Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco, where Spacey did a stunning musical tribute to Darin as part of a 10-city tour to promote the film scheduled for a limited release Dec. 29. And based on his performance Sunday, it doesn’t matter what Spacey looks like, because he’s captured the Darin personality.

Squint a little as Spacey bounds into, “Hello, Young Lovers,” and the there is more than a passing resemblance. Listen, and you hear a bit of Robert Vaughn blended into the Darin sound — but the soul and passion is 100 percent Darin.

Those of us who were too busy living the summer of love and Haight, more or less let Darin slip into the pop culture backwaters. He sang “If I Were a Carpenter” as what many saw as a tepid concession to the times that were a-changin.’ But for the most part, Darin was looked at as the heir apparent to the Sinatra throne and the kingdom consisting of guys in white belts who thought grass was something you got your kid to mow every Saturday morning.

Watching Spacey perform, however, it becomes increasingly apparent Darin was a victim of the social bigotry of the era of peace, freedom and love. He may have donned a fringed jacket or tie-dyed vest, but he had been so strongly identified as one of “them,” that not even writing a tune like “Simple Song of Freedom” could redeem him in the eyes of the Aquarian generation. And by that time, that generation had taken over control of the cultural agenda of the era and co-opted pop music.   

There was no more room for the finger-snappin’, lets have fun and fall in love sort of happy music that fueled any number of back-seat encounters. Instead, tunes had to be meaningful and relevant — there was no place for fun when people were dying in ‘Nam or anywhere else. It was a nearly fatal blow that relegated that sort of music to cabarets, the Broadway stage, and, eventually Branson, Mo.

And poor Bobby Darin seems to have taken the brunt of all this. It would have been interesting to see what might have happened if the congenital heart problems than plagued him all his life, had not proved fatal so early in his career.

What is immediately apparent in Spacey’s tribute is Darin is a man supercharged by an audience. Performing is as important as air to a man like Darin, and he’s willing to do anything to win the approval of his audience. It is not the sort of performance we are accustomed to seeing.

So, in one sense, Spacey’s show, complete with an enormously tight band led by former Darin associate, Roger Kellaway, is a homage to old-style, pull-all-the-stops-out sort of show business. When Spacey’s show started, at Bimbo’s (which is a time warp in its own right), time stopped, and Spacey enchanted.

And that was the second fascinating thing about the presentation. Supposedly, the sort of show Spacey is performing around the country — to sold out crowds — isn’t supposed to sell any more. Yet, the show is doing quite well, and the audiences, at least judging from the San Francisco show on Sunday, are crazy about it.

Certainly it would be possible to chalk the whole thing up to irony, coupled with the chance to see an Oscar-winner doing a nightclub show up close. And, probably, that’s what brought many to the show in the first place.     

But, by the third or fourth number, Spacey had the audience in the palm of his hand, and any previous irony was gone.

He performed the anticipated Vegas big-room numbers of the Darin era — splashy, jazzy classics, such as “Fly Me to the Moon.” But where he really scored well were in his covers of the Darin tunes that Spacey says have been part of his personal sing-in-the-car library for most of his life, and are certainly a big part of the soundtrack for “Beyond the Sea.”

In fact, Spacey peppered his 90-minute show with tunes criss-crossing Darin’s career, including the very early “Splish Splash,” and “Dream Lover,” which he turned into a fairly sophisticated ballad. He sang the later tunes, “If I Were a Carpenter” and “Simple Song of Freedom,” but where Spacey sounded the most like Darin were in the mid-career songs, like “Artificial Flowers” “Clementine” and the classic “Mack the Knife.”

People were loving the show, and Spacey was giving them all he had, to make his one-nighter at Bimbo’s not only an exciting way to spend a Sunday, but a real tribute to the talents of the actor.

December 6, 2004