THE LEADING MEN: Garber, York and Denman

By Tom Nondorf
01 Feb 2007

RAP AND TAP
In December Jeffry Denman was watching a popular "Saturday Night Live" film short and decided he'd finally thought of a great gift to get his fellow White Christmas castmates. And, if you're thinking of anything in a box, you are thinking of the wrong "SNL" short.

"I think my true nature is really hip-hop. I think everyone on Broadway knows that. We're just getting it out to the YouTube world."

While doing Christmas at the Ordway in St. Paul, Denman watched the "Lazy Sunday" clip featuring Andy Samberg and Chris Parnell and asked himself, "Wouldn't it be funny if I rapped about tapping and doing a musical like White Christmas?"

Guerilla filmmaking ensued throughout St. Paul and even at the Mall of America, where Denman's girlfriend Erin filmed him and castmate Kevin Worley rapping about the woes of song and dance men. David Ogden Stiers even showed up for a cameo.

The result, "Lazy Tuesday—I Love a Piano Style" was given by the St. Paul cast to the company in Detroit as a holiday surprise. "We said, 'Get the whole cast together, don't tell them what it's for, and get them all together and show this.' We got on speakerphone while they were watching it, and we were able to hear them reacting to it and laughing. It was really great. It's camaraderie. The White Christmas shows happen every year. It's really become a family. It's about keeping that connection going."

So Denman can cautiously add rap to the list of his many talents. A classic tap dancer, singer, and stage presence, Denman will be bringing everything but the hardcore rap to Birdland for a show he calls Jazz Turns on Feb. 19.

His goal is to re-interpret recent Broadway show tunes in the same way that Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Chet Baker used to so regularly in the Golden Age.

"That doesn't happen anymore, partially because musicals now are so much more integrated — the songs can't easily be lifted out and sung as a jazz song. I tried to do a little bit of homework and look for songs that could, modern songs, contemporary songs for the most part that can be lifted and given a jazz standard."

Then he added tap-dancing to it because it is so much a part of who he is, and gathered a few friends like Brian D'Arcy James (a ghost from White Christmas past), Nancy Anderson and Dennis Stowe. They will be backed by Joshua Pearl and the Joshua Pearl Classic Jazz Trio. So if you like jazz or if you like theatre, and especially if you like both, Denman promises "a nice cool, laid back evening."

Right up to opening night, Denman is acting in the Off-Broadway play Pvt. Wars at the Gene Frankel Theatre. He'll go old-school again in late March as word is out that Denman will be playing the romantic lead in Encores!' production of Irving Berlin and Moss Hart's Face the Music at City Center, where Denman was last seen in Of Thee I Sing, with, you guessed it, Victor Garber. So if you don't see Jeffry Denman in the next couple months, it's entirely not his fault.

[Birdland is located in Manhattan at 315 West 44th Street. For reservations call (212) 581-3080 or visit www.instantseats.com/birdland.]

HITHER AND YON
I was privileged to attend the screening of Amber Edwards' newly completed documentary film "Words and Music by Jerry Herman" at the Lamb's Club a few nights back, and the film is a great reflection of its subject's work: simply presented and unforgettable. First off, the amount of archival footage—shot from the wings and the orchestra pit by Herman's longtime music director, Don Pippin—is sensational. Second, there is much candid commentary by Herman himself, as well as musical turns by Michael Feinstein and hilarious recollections from Charles Nelson Reilly and Carol Channing. Best of all was watching this film in the presence of several original cast members from Herman shows: Gordon Connell from Hello, Dolly!; Ron Young from Mame and Dolly!; Bert Michaels from Mack and Mabel; Walter Charles from La Cage aux Folles, to name a few of the gents. Look for the film on a PBS station near you in the coming months. . . . Ben Vereen will be performing all the tunes he's known for, plus a tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr. at Feinstein's at the Regency from Feb. 6–17. . . . Michael Cavanaugh of Movin' Out fame has announced two nights at Feinstein's in March. . . . Trippy kids musical Just a Matter of Time completed a showcase at The Sage Theatre in Midtown Manhattan on Jan. 31. Excellent singing by David Demato, Eric Starker and Anthony Santelmo Jr., among others.

Tom Nondorf is a publications editor for Playbill Classic Arts. He can be reached by e-mail at tnondorf@playbill.com



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