“This is all about putting the spotlight back on Bobby Darin,” Kevin Spacey told the considerable crowd at the Wiltern as his 90-minute, all-Darin show was coming to a close. He has launched a short tour to coincide with the Lions Gate release of his Darin biopic, “Beyond the Sea,” and its Rhino soundtrack, providing an evening of song that goes beyond the film to showcase the breadth of Darin’s work. As reasonable facsimiles go, it’s pretty entertaining.
In concert, the tuxedoed actor captures Darin’s phrasing and holds notes splendidly, yet never exerts a command of the material and far too often swallows words at the end of a line. Tonally, they are slightly different singers, part of which may just owe to the fact that Darin made his best-known recordings in his mid-20s and Spacey is a score older.
Also, Darin evolved from a teen idol with a novelty hit to crooner to folk singer, and in each persona shaped his voice to service the material. Spacey, whose previous singing was limited to summer stock, Juilliard and Chatsworth High School, doesn’t have that luxury.
But Spacey gets to deliver something Darin never was able to do in his 37-year lifetime — a career retrospective that celebrates each moment with reverence and full-bore effort. Armed with stories of Darin’s life and, of course, the ambitions of the film, Spacey was able to set each song in perspective, either historically or personally.
Not surprisingly, the better known the song, the better the perf. Spacey opened with a bouncy “Hello Young Lovers,” held notes splendidly on lively readings of “Mack the Knife” and “Beyond the Sea,” and gave Tim Hardin’s “If I Were a Carpenter” a record-perfect rendition. With guest Peter Cincotti, who plays Dick Behrke in the film, on piano and vocals, the two had a ball of fun with “Splish Splash.”
Yet by staying true to Darin’s work, it meant the inclusion of some rather bombastic arrangements the singer used for TV perfs in the early 1970s when television aimed to soften the rockers and update the crooners. Hence, his versions of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” — a song that’s remarkably tough to sing convincingly — Randy Newman’s “Sail Away” and “Can’t Take My Eyes off You” were nuance-free and dated in a cringeworthy way.
Helping bring the sound of authenticity to the evening was pianist and musical director Roger Kellaway, who worked with Darin throughout his career. On Jan. 18, he, too, joins Darin-mania with the release of the album “I Was There: Roger Kellaway Plays From the Bobby Darin Songbook.”
Spacey will play Rose Hall in the new Jazz at Lincoln Center on Tuesday. The 10-show tour ends Dec. 26 and 27 in Las Vegas at the Stardust Hotel.