When Wayne Scott Kermond was playing in a production of Guys and Dolls, already a life-long song and dance man, Sammy Davis Jnr came to one of the performances and met the cast back stage. As Kermond tells it, the legendary American entertainer made a beeline to him after the show, shook his hand and said: "Man, you are one cool dancer. Keep it up, coz we need young cats like you to take over from old cats like me."
Kermond took it to heart. Two decades later the accomplished stage performer brings a tribute show to Brisbane (after a season late last year in Perth), Candy Man, to maintain a legacy he embodies as an original song and dance man.
And if that all sounds a little uncomfortably mawkish - all leggy, feathered showgirls and ‘make ‘em laugh' slapstick; all toothy face-cracking smiles and wildly gyrating jazz hands - then you'd be close to the mark. But if you go with it, there is some fun to be had.
Kermond is one of those showbiz performers who use the phrase "showbiz". The business of show courses through the veins to the heartbeat of musical numbers past. The fourth-generation family performer was cast as a tap-dancing sailor in Gypsy at the age of 11, as Tom Thumb in Barnum, and then went on to tread the boards of most stages in the country: in West Side Story, HMS Pinafore, A Chorus Line, Chicago and, perhaps most noted and awarded, Singin' in the Rain.
But he feels a special bond to the music of Sammy. Candy Man is an admirably ambitious show tracing a life occasionally in parallel to his own, from the family vaudeville act to the Rat Pack and barrier-breaking film and television performances. It doesn't always succeed, but Kermond's talent inevitably shines through. He's a consummate all-singing, all-dancing showman with enough charm to win over most cynics in the crowd. Certainly, the grey brigade nearly put out a hip dancing along.
The stage shtick is very slick. The moves, particularly in a quite spectacular tap session, are silky smooth, though the considerable exertion did make an otherwise sturdy voice quite breathless at times.
He's backed by a rollicking eight-piece on-stage band, led by musical director Mark Taylor (who gets in on the jokes) with mostly local Brisbane musicians. The ensemble also includes five young hoofers, seemingly straight from the set of So You Think You Can Dance? (and they'd be right), plus a choir of school kids for an evangelical number that doesn't quite raise the roof. Stephen Wickham's production and lighting design, meanwhile, makes it all suitably sparkle.
At its best, when Kermond commands the stage with his powerful voice, it is a joyous cabaret experience. While the hokey Candy Man was Sammy's biggest hit (apparently somewhat of an embarrassment to him), his discography includes some timeless show tunes that Kermond belts out with ease. Mr Bojangles is a real highlight, testament to a great love for the man and his music.
But the intimacy of some numbers gets lost in the cavernous Playhouse Theatre (with too many empty seats for Thursday's official opening night performance). While Kermond tries hard to reach the back row with a show that tries hard to be more than it is, a smaller venue would befit what should be some unashamed old-school variety performance.
This Candy Man most certainly mixes it with love; as he kisses the bowler hat and looks skywards Sammy would indeed be proud. But does he make the world taste good? Well, it's a sickly-sweet treat to frighten any dentist.
Perhaps I just prefer my candy dark and a little more bitter...
Exciting Entertainment in association with David Atkins OAM present
Venue: Playhouse, QPAC
Date/time: 28 January until 15 February, Tuesday to Saturday at 7.30pm; Wednesday and Saturday at 1.30pm; Sunday at 3pm.
Tickets: From $45 (incl fees) | On Sale 15 September
Bookings: 136 246 or qtix.com.au