Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Elvis Presley

The Bobby Darin Story


Ted Chapin kicks off his tenure as head of 92Y’s iconic Lyrics & Lyricists with The Bobby Darin Story inspired by Dream Lover, an Australian jukebox musical telling the story of vocalist/musician/ songwriter/ publisher Bobby Darin: Walden Robert Cassotto 1936-1973. (The artist is said to have chosen his professional name passing a MANDARIN RESTAURANT sign with its first three neon letters gone dark.) Inclusion in a series celebrating writers is explained by utilizing some of Darin’s own songs, a few highly recognizable, several obscure. (He wrote over 160.)

To say featured performer Jonathan Groff’s fan base has assembled is putting it mildly. The audience cheers when he comes on, intermittently throughout, and volubly during bows. When Chapin approached Groff about playing Darin, the latter’s familiarity was limited to Kevin Spacey’s terrible biopic. YouTube Research got him hooked on the vocalist’s versatility. Respect is as palpable as enthusiasm.  (Author Will Friedwald calls Darin “a titanic fireball of an ultra-dynamic swinging and rocking entertainer.”)

George Salazar, Stephanie Styles, Jonathan Groff, Elena Shaddow, David Pittu

We open with an appealing low key version of “Beyond the Sea.” (Charles Trenet/ Albert Lasry Jack Lawrence.) Groff’s renditions, even when pop is ebullient or swing swells, soften edges making words more lyrical. For my money, a highpoint this evening comes towards the end when he sings Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter,” recorded during Darin’s otherwise unsuccessful folk phase. It’s soft as a fleece blanket and full of yearning. This is not to say Groff doesn’t otherwise sell the artist’s hip gestures, slick moves, finger snaps, and attitude.

Bobby Darin was born so poor, his crib was a salvaged cardboard box. Rheumatic fever weakened his system and would eventually be the source of early death. Doctors said he wouldn’t live past 15. He was short and balding. Ambition (and his mother’s unconditional support) fueled every decision. Young Darin worked in bands.

Elena Shaddow and Jonathan Groff; Stephanie Styles and Jonathan Groff

Depiction of nervously bombing in his first television (1956) appearance is deftly sympathetic in Groff’s hands. A mere two years later Darin’s own “Splish Splash” extemporized at the offhand suggestion of radio personality Murray-the-K’s mother, Jean (co-writer), shot to number one. Vivacious performance ostensibly on American Bandstand follows.

Not only does Groff/Darin sing  – often with vocal back-up, but so do his mother (Elena Shaddow – pretty voice, little personality), Elvis Presley (George Salazar with gyrating gusto), George Burns, in his first show without Gracie Allen (David Pittu, whose rather good  impersonation is somewhat handicapped by a mustache), and Darin’s wife, Sandra Dee (Stephanie Styles – thin, chirpy vocals). While varied attribution successfully allows for different voices performing a single oeuvre, I find breaking up narrative among the five-person cast (on cards and in scripts) disjointing/ distracting.

Jonathan Groff and David Pittu

At first emulating Elvis (neatly portrayed by Groff), Darin found his singular groove by arranging standards as rock. We hear “(Up A) Lazy River” (Hoagy Carmichael/ Sydney Arodin) by Groff, Pittu, Salazar and “That’s All” (Bob Haymes/Alan E. Brandt) by Shaddow. A charming duet of “I Ain’t Got Nobody” (Robert Graham/David Payton /Spencer Williams) performed with George Burns (Groff and Pitu) includes jaunty, ersatz soft shoe. “Mack the Knife” is tellingly performed first in good German (lyrics-Bertolt Brecht) by Pitu, then in English by Groff (Marc Blitzstein/Kurt Weill). All in all the men fare better than the women tonight.

It’s conjectured that because of early prognosis, Darin was fascinated by death, including the subject in many songs. The number chosen to exemplify this theory is Sheldon Harnick/Jerry Bock’s “Artificial Flowers.” Styles smiles during her up-tempo, counter-intuitive, pop version, but then Darin did as well.

His mother’s dream was realized in 1960 when Darin finally booked The Copacabana night club. Groff seamlessly slips into many of Darin’s signature moves – the short step and slide, the quick turn, shoulder jerk back, left hand finger snaps, and integrates familiar, punctuating sounds – Huh! Uh Huh! Hup! Yeah! Whoa!

George Salazar

“Dream Lover,” “Multiplication,” and “Things” were written by Darin, as was “18 Yellow Roses,” which tells the true story of his courting Sandra Dee (the first Gidget) through her chaperone mother by sending flowers daily. Dee was resistant at first and on paper the two seemed like opposites. Once he got his foot in the door, however, Darin swept her off her young feet. They married and became America’s Sweethearts. “Irresistible You” (Al Kasha/ Luther Dixon) is performed by Groff and Styles, who resembles the perky Dee.

Film work was inconsistent. Darin went back to night clubs where he felt at home. Dee hated having to sit ringside for two shows a night. Far flung appearances strained. Even with a new son, she began to drink and gamble. In an effort to keep things together, Darin started a music publishing company. “Danke Schoen” (Kurt Schwabach/Milt Gabler/Bert Kaempfert, which he handed off to Wayne Newton, made the newer performer a star. Salazar sings this with round-toned zest. Things came to a head. The couple divorced.

David Pittu, Elena Shaddow, Jonathan Groff, Stephanie Styles, George Salazar

Two pivotal things happened on the heels of this breach: Darin’s friend Bobby Kennedy was assassinated and the artist learned the woman he thought was his mother was in fact his grandmother, that his sister was his mom. The entertainer took off his hairpiece, moved to a trailer on the coast, and musically went through a folk phase. When the Hardin song hit, he realized he was still “a nightclub animal” and returned. Groff’s “Once in A Lifetime” (Leslie Bricusse/Anthony Newley) is well placed. Time was running out.“In a sense his whole career was posthumous.”

Despite needing an oxygen tank offstage, Darin began a weekly television show and made plans for residency at The MGM Grand. He ignominiously died at 37 when forgetting to take antibiotics necessary to his heart condition before a dentist appointment.

Off comes the make up/Off comes the clown’s disguise/ The curtain’s fallin’ /The music softly dies./But I hope your smilin’/As you’re filin’ out the door/As they say in this biz/That’s all there is, there isn’t anymore.  “The Curtain Falls

Chapin’s script is entertaining and highly informative.

Director Alex Timbers keeps the piece lively and duets fetching.

Photos by Richard Termine
Opening: Jonathan Groff

92Y Lyrics & Lyricists presents
The Bobby Darin Story
Based on the musical Dream Lover
Featuring Jonathan Groff
Vocalists: David Puttu, George Salazar, Elena Shaddow, Stephanie Styles
Director- Alex Timbers
Music Directors- Andy Einhorn & Andrew Resnick
Musical Staging-Chase Brock
92Y – Lexington Avenue 92/93
NEXT LYRICS & LYRICISTS: Lenny’s Lyricists February 24-26

A Taste of Things to Come – Cookin’ Up Friendship


Take your mother, your daughters, your nieces, your friends. What works in this piece sheds light on the lives of women as they first broke free of restraining traditions – through character, in song, not polemic.

It’s 1957. President Eisenhower is in The White House. We’re in the middle of The Cold War. On The Ed Sullivan Show, Elvis Presley is shown only from the waist up. American Bandstand premiers. Rock Hudson is the national heartthrob. Arkansas calls out the National Guard to prevent African-American students from enrolling in high school. The Civil Rights Commission is established. A first Vietnam casualty is sustained by the U.S. Military. Sputnik I is launched. Sex is not publicly discussed. The hula hoop is introduced.


Allison Guinn, Janet Dacal, Autumn Hurlbert, Paige Faure

We’re in Joan Smith’s Winnetka, Illinois kitchen at a meeting of the Betty Crocker inspired Wednesday Winnetka Women’s Cooking Club. “Betty” herself is briefly seen on a “television screen” that doubles as the picture window when not in use. “I guarantee a perfect cake every time you bake…Or write General Mills, Minneapolis, Minnesota and get your money back,” the sincere black and white figure assures America. (Use of vintage commercials and advertising is inspired.) This is the group’s 17th annual attempt at winning a national contest providing a loose reason to gather. Each has dreams of what to do with the prize.

The club: Joan (Paige Faure), contentedly married to a traveling salesman and taking a journalism course at night. “Don’t be silly, women aren’t journalists,” Dottie comments. No kids. Connie Olsen (Autumn Hurlburt), due to give birth to her first child in three days, is married to Thor who works at J.C. Penney in women’s shoes. There was somethin’ missin’ in his kissin’/But they said I’d look pretty in white…Dottie O’Farrell (Allison Guinn) a good natured “baby machine” with two sets of twins, more conservatively set in her beliefs than the others. Her spouse is a telephone repairman. And Agnes Crookshank (Janet Dacal), who, single, arrives in curlers so neighbors will think she has a date. Agnes aches to make a splash in the entertainment world. “An idea person,” she neither cooks nor sees the need.


Paige Faure, Autumn Hurlbert, Allison Guinn, Janet Dacal

A rousing “Cooking” is followed by “Dear Abby” in which each woman asks a revealing question… Abby I need you, Shoop Shoop Doo Wah…This may be the first choreography that neatly utilizes rolling pins like burlesque props. A song about gossip (an integral part of weekly meetings), finds the ladies in trench coats and shades. Potential scandals are marvelously credible… I was under the dryer, when…(the dryer is a large, overturned, aluminum mixing bowl.) Brava. Songs employ melodic genres of the time.

Joe Bonomo’s manuals of behavior for women (these existed “right next to the gum and mints at the checkout counter”), which three of the women live by, include Ten Easy Steps to the Altar: “1. Be mentally prepared. 2. Sometimes you have to put on an act…” At 23, Agnes is considered a spinster. (Age should be raised a bit to support the cast.) Connie calls Sidney Poitier, a negro, handsome. The word “breast” elicits literal screams of shock and embarrassment.

Images in The Kinsey Report (it’s Joan’s copy) are turned this way and that with wariness and curiosity. The women mourn lack of a bar at which they can congregate like men. “Happy Hour” is ersatz Polynesian. (And fun.) When Connie’s water breaks, the room panics. We find out there’s a really good reason she doesn’t want to call Thor. Unexpected judgments arise. All this may sound comprehensive, but I assure you, there’s much more to learn and enjoy about the ladies.


Allison Guinn, Autumn Hurlbert, Paige Faure, Janet Dacal

Act II opens ten years later. The friends haven’t seen one another since Connie’s baby was born. Joan organizes a reunion with an ulterior motive. Dottie and she still live in Winnetka, the others have traveled to be there. New jobs, different partners and fresh perspectives abound.

There’s a son in Saigon, a biracial coupling, marijuana, women’s lib…lyrics are a bit more cliché: …we put our dreams on layaway; I can fly higher than the stars… a bit less clever, somewhat less musically diverse. Still, there are a few really good songs – Dottie has an hysterical hot mama turn centering on food – everything is directed with imagination and skill, choreography continues zesty and engaging. Joan shares her reason for bringing them together.

Oh, and they cook. “Swedish Meatballs?…The sauce is easy. A jar of grape jelly and a bottle of ketchup.”


Autumn Hurlbert, Allison Guinn, Paige Faure, Janet Dacal

All four actresses, cast to reflect different physical types, move and sing well. Additionally: Allison Guinn (Dottie) is a skilled comedienne with both verbal timing and physical mishap. Janet Dacal makes Agnes’s sexuality and ersatz transformation entirely believable. Autumn Hurlbert (Connie) imbues her character with the groundwork for gradual revelation and wears maternity with appealing humor. Paige Faure (Joan) handles narration with tongue ably in cheek and is a particularly graceful dancer.

Director/Choreographer Lorin Latarro seamlessly integrates movement/dance with kitchen chores and character exposition. Evidence of when and where we are is well planted. Furniture and unlikely props add ample amusement. Every woman appears whole in her attitudes and bearing. A superb job.

The wonderful Set by Steven C. Kemp is a turquoise, yellow and white, component kitchen with checkered linoleum floor. Its back wall features a montage of period advertisements. From starburst clock to chrome and vinyl breakfast set, every detail suits the period in its cheeriest form. The window/video screen is ingenious. Act II, set in 1967, is a smidgen less successful. Not that the change in furniture (and attitude) isn’t spot on, but during a time of breaking out, colors and style oddly grow more, not less conservative. A new back wall of hubcap-like disco lights is jarring.

Dana Burkhart’s Costumes are terrific in Act I, each individual expressed in outfits that work well together on stage. In Act II, however, though apparel is appropriate, the four ensembles look visually dissonant side by side.

The Taste of Things to Come was inspired by the experiences and recipes of Hollye Levin’s mother. Do not fail to read actual recipes of the period posted on a wall at The York. You never know when a tuna and jello mold or bananas hollandaise (with ham) might come in handy.

Photos by Carol Rosegg
Opening: Autumn Hurlbert, Allison Guinn, Paige Faure, Janet Dacal

The York Theatre Company
in association with Staci Levine and What’s Cookin’ LLC. presents
A Taste of Things to Come
Book, Music, and Lyrics: Debra Barsha and Hollye Levin
Music Direction: Gillian Berkowitz
Direction and Choreography: Lorin Latarro
The York Theatre at St. Peter’s
619 Lexington Avenue
Through December 11. 2016