When my daughter was in 8th grade she had the lead in the school play. And I had nightmares about learning her lines. When I was a volunteer puppeteer performing shows in elementary schools it took me days to learn my lines for my skits.
Which is why I am even more in awe of Eric Jordan Young, currently performing the one-man show Sammy & Me at the Hertz Stage at the Alliance Theatre. He is not only the sole performer for the entire play, he plays 34 different characters, ranging from Dahlia, the Caribbean wardrobe mistress to Richard Nixon to college boys to members of a dancing trio. And three members of the famous Rat Pack – Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. himself.
Switching characters, and decades, is often accomplished with a quick turn-around, or sometimes just by a shift in his position, accent and mannerisms. You have to pay attention to this show to follow along. But that’s one of the beauties of a show in a smaller theater. The Hertz Theater seats just 200, and the seats are positioned on risers so we all had a close-up view of this mesmerizing production.
The play, also written by Eric with co-author Wendy Dann, follows his obsession with Sammy Davis Jr. beginning with watching him on “The Flip Wilson Show” as a small child and wanting to perform as he did. It also follows Sammy’s career, which began when he was 3, touring with his dad and uncle with the Will Mastin Trio. As the time period spans the 20th century, we are witness to the many instances of racism Sammy and his family encountered as well as the ostracism young Eric sometimes felt as the only African-American child in a white suburb. “I hate Webelos,” he protests. “I’m the only one.”
There is also a show-within-a-show device, as the adult performer Eric is backstage before a performance doubting his depiction of Sammy after reading a criticism of it in a local paper. This is where the hilarious wardrobe mistress comes in as she is scurrying around in an effort to hustle him onto the stage.
It’s kind of difficult to explain the plot so let’s just say the device works and Eric gives a captivating performance as all these characters. He sings, he dances, he acts, he climbs the scenery. And he draws us into the worlds of these various characters. And finally explains to himself why he admires Sammy Davis Jr. so.
Eric, who in addition to being a performer and playwright, is also a songwriter, was last seen at the Alliance as King Herod in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar GOSPEL. (If you didn’t see that production take a moment here for sincere regret as it was one of the best theatrical experiences I’ve ever had.)
The play runs through October 24 at the Alliance Theatre. Watch a trailer and order tickets here.