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Mack the Knife: The Life and Music of Bobby Darin

Presented by Splish Splash Productions, LLC, casting by World Casting, at the Theatre at Saint Peter's, 619 Lexington Ave., NYC, June 22-Aug. 31.

Do not toss out those old Bobby Darin records and tapes! The current show at the Theatre at Saint Peter's, which purports to be a tribute to the late singer, doesn't offer the same thrill as the real thing. "Splish Splash," "Beyond the Sea," and especially "Mack the Knife" simply do not pack the same wallop as in the original Darin renditions.

To do him justice, Chaz Esposito, who plays the role, does move well, sing pleasantly, exhibit stage poise, and engage the audience. But for any longtime Darin fan, it's hard not to make comparisons. Esposito's voice lacks the distinctive richness and style of Darin. Moreover, his backup instrumentalists, capable though they are, tend to drown out the lyrics. More often than not, Esposito seems to be viewed through the wrong end of a telescope, cavorting about and mouthing words, but not communicating.

Nevertheless, "Mack the Knife" is still a nicely composed little show. It is directed and co-written by Esposito (with Jim Haddon, who is also musical director). Larry Frenock serves as narrator, appearing from time to time to provide the Bobby Darin background story. And on videotape, interviews with Darin's longtime manager and his protégé Wayne Newton round out the presentation.

The poised, confident Esposito is to be commended for the way he connects with his audience. He takes advantage of the small theatre, which lends itself to intimacy—for instance, pulling a woman up on stage to dance with him. This "audience participation" ploy can be embarrassing, but Esposito's easy, understated style makes it work.

Still, we deplore the growing trend to create shows around the lives of former stars. In a way, it's a cheap shot that cashes in on the celebrity of a one-time noted artist, which hopefully rubs off on the current performer. Sometimes it works beautifully—consider "Hank Williams: Lost Highway." Not so well this time around.

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