Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre, sponsored by the City of Evanston, opens its 2015 summer season with a repeat of last year’s, “Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story.”
Tim Rhoze, Artistic Director of FJT, as well as writer and director of “Why Not Me?” came back to this play with a great deal of excitement for the Davis’ musicianship and for his presence.
Rhoze says, “It was his life that intrigued me, the incredible will of a man who could have been defeated many times by many forces, but instead of wilting away, he fought back time and time again.” An all-around entertainer who encountered personal and public stumbling blocks, Sammy Davis Jr. persevered and continued his career through it all. “This is what actor Sean Blake performs so brilliantly.”
But “Why Not Me?” is emphatically “not a revue.” “There are musical elements that come into play,” Rhoze said. “I often get into a zone where it’s just about the words, about the story without laboring about how it will look on stage…first and foremost it is prose with wonderful sprinkles of Blake singing and dancing.”
In addition to this multi-faceted experience of a production, which exemplifies Rhoze’s idea of a professional theatre production brought to an Evanston audience, Rhoze spoke of the all-encompassing power of theatre to build community. “FJT is committed to bringing the fullest theatre experience possible to the community by presenting professional theatrical productions, offering performing arts programs for kids ages 5-14, facilitating a senior citizen drama club and continued theatre education through our acting, Shakespeare, and writing workshops, and teen summer camps.”
There’s a delicate preparation in opening a play that is built around an historical character. “When it comes to directing an actor who portrays a character that many people are familiar with, you know the voice, the walk, the look; it feels right to have a strong sense of those iconic traits but not crossover into mimicry; it’s a delicate balance.”
Rhoze and Blake pulled this production off last year to sold out audiences, so something must be balanced correctly. Rhoze is aware that he has a valuable product, and sells it just as he did last year. “I’ve made some minor rewrites, refined some moments with the actor; we’ll fuss with the lighting and sound designs a little bit…but overall, if you saw it last year you’ll see and hear, for the most part, the same wonderful production. ‘If it ain’t broke…’”
“Why Not Me? A Sammy Davis Jr. Story” runs June 13 – June 28 at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes St., Evanston.