John O’Neil was top of his game this past weekend, performing ‘SO KAYE, his delightful cabaret tribute to Danny Kaye, at American Classics. He’s been doing the show for thirteen years and rumor has it, this may be the last time. (Then again Richard Kiley did more than a few “last ever” MAN OF LA MANCHAs so who knows?)
O’Neil inhabits each song as if it were a story, throwing his imaginary hat happily into the air in “Breezin’ Along With the Breeze” or caressing each shimmering note in an especially poignant, sorrowful “Molly Malone.” An evening of cabaret from O’Neil is a master class on how to sell a song.
He whistles a lively duet with Zachary Chadwick’s flute in “The Fairy Pipers” and tears down the house with “Minnie the Moocher.” Jim Rice’s small, tight orchestra has a big sound, with Mick Lewander on drums, John Styklunas on bass and Dave Burdett on trumpet, making the rousing Cab Calloway showstopper the hit of the performance.
O’Neil was joined by the chipper Meg O’Brien for a lovely, jazzy, syncopated “Lullaby in Ragtime” (composed by Kaye’s wife, Sylvia Fine) and she played “straight man” in the pièce de résistance for Kaye fans, the “Chalice with the Palace” tongue twister from THE COURT JESTER.