Lynda D'Amour

One Coll Cat:
The Songs of Sammy Davis, Jr.

Don't Tell Mama
New York, NY
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 21 years since Sammy Davis, Jr. died of throat cancer. It seems like only yesterday that he was one of the most ubiquitous people in entertainment. I mean, you couldn’t watch a TV talk or variety show without seeing the diminutive “Candy Man” dancing, prancing, preening and blowing the roof off with a song. He infiltrated Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack and made fun of himself as being a “one-eyed Negro Jew.” He hardly ever missed showing up on the annual Jerry Lewis telethon and he could even do pretty good impression of James Cagney.

Growing up in New Hampshire, young Lynda D’Amour must have seen many of those appearances and listened intently to her parents’ Sammy Davis albums because, by the age of 13, she was commandeering her family’s fireplace as her own personal stage and belting “What Kind of Fool Am I?” Who can explain why someone so young becomes so enamored of a particular entertainer, especially when that connection seems so anachronistic? (I still can’t really explain why I fell in love with Al Jolson in the mid-1960s, more than 15 years after he died.) Something about the multi-talented, powerhouse performer Sammy resonated with D’Amour and she’s been expressing that on stage ever since.

The attractive blonde, now living in Boston, took to the Don’t Tell Mama stage in a sleeveless, purple cocktail dress and opened One Cool Cat with two jazzy, up-tempo songs, “The Gypsy in My Soul” (Moe Jaffe/Clay Boland) and “A Lot of Livin’ to Do,” the latter from Bye, Bye Birdie. D’Amour followed with a bluesy, heartfelt rendition of “Mr. Bojangles,” a song she first performed in her private dance classes at 12. Then came a medley of Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley numbers— the 1972 number-one hit “Candy Man,” “Gonna Build a Mountain” and “Once in a Lifetime” (both from Stop the World, I Want to Get Off)—three of seven Bricusse/Newley songs in the set. In one of her more interesting factoids, D’Amour related that Davis recorded 44 Bricusse and/or Newley songs.

D’Amour (and her musical director/pianist Barry Levitt) brought a nice swinging vibe to Irving Berlin’s “Change Partners,” was absolutely lovely on “If I Ruled the World” (Bricusse/Cyril Ornadel) and included a cool, deep register scat on “Lover, Come Back to Me.” Her strength is a sultry, breathy alto on the lower notes, which was never more evident than on the highlight of the set, “What Kind of Fool Am I?”

There were a few minor flaws in the show that should be quite fixable. During a “Vegas Connection” medley (including “Too Close for Comfort,” “Something’s Gotta Give” and “‘Deed I Do”), D’Amour did a bit too much finger-snapping, which was made even more disconcerting by her banging the microphone with a large ring on her left hand. Her between-songs script needs to be tightened up, and “Talk to the Animals,” which she presented as a metaphor for dealing with men, just didn’t land.

The final third of the set featured Lynda’s sensuous delivery on the ballad “Somebody,” (Sid Wayne/Benjamin Weisman), an intense interpretation of “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” (another Bricusse/Newley song, from the musical The Roar of the Greasepaint-The Smell of the Crowd), and a rousing “Birth of the Blues” finale. All in all, she did her hero proud. Lynda D’Amour? Chanson d’amour.

Stephen Hanks
Cabaret Scenes
October 14, 2011