Sammy Davis Jr. was a childhood vaudevillian, recording artist, television and film star, Broadway and Las Vegas legend and member of the Rat Pack along with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop. Davis' iconic presence during four decades marked him as an unforgettable entertainer. Memories and celebratory moments of Davis and his life unfold in The Old Globe's world premiere "Sammy," running Sept. 19 through Nov. 8.
The show spotlights the star's life from his vaudeville days to his fame with the Rat Pack and beyond. Tony-nominated Obba Babatunde stars as Davis in the musical. He met Davis when working with Liza Minnelli on a world tour that followed Davis' world tour. The two became lifelong friends.
"The first time I met him, I told him I wanted to thank him for coming in through the kitchen so I could come in through the front door," Babatunde said. "His eyes welled up, tears rolled down his face and he grabbed me and said thank you. No one can play Sammy. There is only one Sammy, but I'm so happy to have the opportunity to portray a lifelong legendary figure that I've patterned my career after."
Two-time Academy Award and Grammy Award winner Leslie Bricusse wrote the music and lyrics for "Sammy." Included will be Davis favorites - "What Kind of Fool Am I," "Candy Man," "Once in A Lifetime" - that Bricusse wrote, as well as new songs by him and Anthony Newley. Babatunde, who dances and sings 20 songs in the show, knows Bricusse has waited 30 years to pay tribute to Davis.
"All the music tells the story of Sammy's life and of Davis' iconic colleagues," Babatunde said. "Mary Ann Hermansen as Kim Novak tells part of Sammy's journey, and when she dances like the wind and sings like an angel, she's stunning. Adam James plays Frank Sinatra, and when you close your eyes and listen to him, you'll believe it's Frank on the stage. Dean Martin is portrayed by Troy Britton Johnson, and the cast fell on the floor laughing during rehearsals when he did his slurred rendition of Dean. Victoria Platt, who plays Altovise Gore, is also a wonderful singer, dancer and actor. We are fortunate to have cast who share their talent and generosity."
The cast also includes Heather Ayers (May Britt/Ensemble), Ann Duquesnay (Rosa Davis), Ted Louis Levy (Sammy Davis Sr.), Keewa Nurullah (Lola Folana/Ensemble) and Lance Roberts (Will Mastin). Direction is by Keith Glover and choreography by Keith Young. Globe Executive Director Louis G. Spisto said the aim of the show is to both honor Davis for those who knew and loved him, and to also introduce this one-of-a-kind performer to a new audience.
"We've worked hard to put together the best piece we can to honor this man," Babatunde said. "I'm hoping we will scratch the surface of the brilliance of Sammy's career and to inspire those who are unaware of not only the magnitude of his talent and accomplishments, but the era in which he was able to excel. He was headlining when Jim Crowe laws were still in place. While he, his uncle and his dad were playing in big hotels, they could not eat in the same restaurant, come in through the front door of that hotel and in some cases even use the same restroom. His willingness to go into battle for the right to be who he was defines a great courage."
Hard work aside, Babatunde knows the audience will enjoy this show full of music and memories of admired stars. Babatunde has starred in "Dreamgirls," the revival of "Chicago," and created the role of Jelly Roll Morton in "Jelly's Last Jam." About his portrayal as Davis, he said: "For me, it's a joyful but very emotional journey. Knowing Sammy, I think he would say, 'Good luck in playing me, man; it was tough for me to play me.' "