Sammy Davis, Jr. and Tom Jones were good friends and great performers together. Their chemistry on stage made them shine in the light of each other.
In this bravura performance, they kid, they sing — they do it all “live on tape” — so any mistake or error will be embedded forever. Tom and Sammy are such mighty pros, though, that they create not just a memorable performance, but a flawless one with great magnitude as well.
In this second performance from the same show, we are giving a moving and dramatic interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Bojangles.” Sammy was better known for singing that song, but in this moment, Tom sings while Sammy performs as Bojangles.
Notice how beautifully Sammy matches the tone and timbre of Tom’s voice with the movement of his body in space. When Bonjangles’ “dog up and died, up and died,” Sammy makes an impossible and awkward moment — that comes out of no were organically within the song — actually work in performance with a flash of sorrow and pain.
Performers like Sammy are dangerous for writers and directors because he makes bad moments work. As an actor, he fixes in performance what should have been resolved in the source material or with proper direction. Resolving the underlying problem allows actors like Sammy even greater freedom to soar and explore instead of having to cover and fix.
The aesthetic of the set and costumes is also compelling. The use of a grey palette with subtle, dusky pastel colors, give you a sense of time bending in space in black and white with dashes of living color. The performance combines the old past with the new present — and it is all being achieved through the magic of color manipulation and audience expectation. Fantastic!
These two performances leave us breathless. We cannot deny the immense talent of Sammy Davis, Jr. while also confessing Tom Jones is an outstanding singer who can bring warmth and depth to a song that he honors in the borrowing, but never deigns to own.