December 09, 2004

Concert Review: Kevin Spacey

LOS ANGELES - This wasn't a Vegas impersonator act. It wasn't like, ugh, Beatlemania, either.

While Kevin Spacey has mastered much of Bobby Darin's phrasing, stage patter and movements -- from hand gestures to body language -- he didn't try to completely mimic Darin as much as celebrate his life's work. And he did so with a true fan's enthusiasm Monday night at the Wiltern.

Spacey's 10-city tour with an orchestra led by pianist Roger Kellaway, Darin's original musical director, is a novel way to promote the upcoming biopic, "Beyond the Sea."

For some who actually saw Darin in concert before his death in 1973, it may all be pale imitation, but the 90-minute show was a love letter from the stage, and much of the audience wanted to sign it as well.

Spacey's a solid enough vocalist, and the first to acknowledge he in no way has the prowess, range and depth of his hero. Yet his performances were clearly heartfelt and joyous, from the hipster swing of "Mack the Knife" to the big-band bounce of "Beyond the Sea," with most arrangements based on original charts from Darin's archives.

When turning to such ballads as "That's All" and the wistful "Once Upon a Time," from the Broadway musical "All American," a bit of Spacey himself seemed to peek through.

Jazz pianist Peter Cincotti, who also appears in the film, came onstage for a couple of numbers, including a rollicking duet of "Splish Splash."

Sure, there were moments of cheese -- just as in Darin's own shows, one might argue -- especially with a frozen-in-time late-'60s-style arrangement of Frankie Valli's "Can't Take My Eyes Off You." A version of Paul Simon's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" took a Memphis soul approach, however.

Spacey assumed a swaggering, slurring drunk persona during a vamped "One for My Baby," then tossed off impressions of Al Pacino, Marlon Brando, Katharine Hepburn, Johnny Carson, Jimmy Stewart and Jerry Lewis, as Darin did in his nightclub act.

The folk-pop of Tim Hardin's "If I Was a Carpenter" -- Darin's last top 10 hit -- and the anti-war, Vietnam-era "Simple Song of Freedom," written by Darin in return for Hardin, were both especially stirring.

Some of the best numbers were lesser-known Darin covers, including Randy Newman's ironic tale of slavery "Sail Away" and the Gerry Goffin-Carole King blues "Hi-De-Ho," which was a hit for Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Decked out in a tux, Spacey spoke with reverence of Darin's work and legacy, explaining that his goal with the concerts and film is to put the spotlight back on Darin's far-ranging music. In that he's certainly succeeded, so far. Ironically, it may put a damper on sales of the movie soundtrack, which features Spacey singing the tunes, and might instead lead people to collections like Rhino's superb four-CD box "As Long as I'm Singing," released a decade ago.

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