Yes I Can, a new musical inspired by the life and times of African-American Harlem native and entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., is in the works from producers Arlie Cone and Steven Hayes, who are putting together a five-week New York City workshop this spring, with an eye toward producing the show on Broadway. The show’s primary composer is Tony Award winner Charles Strouse, who worked with Davis on the musical Golden Boy.
Director Sam Scalamoni, who was associate director of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast on Broadway and beyond, told Playbill.com on Jan. 9 that the show is about a charismatic African-American performer who rises to fame in the 20th century. He said the leading man (played by an actor yet to be named) is not called Sammy Davis Jr., but that the show explores the music, obstacles, joys, cultural signposts and passions that someone like Davis would have encountered.
“It’s about an African-American performer who goes through a lot of the trials that [Sammy Davis] went through,” Scalamoni said, adding that the show is shaping up to be a musical fable about a triple-threat song-and-dance man in the same way that Dreamgirls was a fable about a Supremes-like Motown girl-group.
Strouse (The Nightingale, Charlotte’s Web) is a composer-lyricist but is best known for his songs and musicals with lyricists Lee Adams (Bye Bye Birdie, Applause) and Martin Charnin (Annie). He wrote music and lyrics for five original songs for Yes I Can. According to Scalamoni, a Strouse-Adams number from Golden Boy is to be interpolated into the score, as is the Strouse-Adams song “Yes I Can,” which Davis recorded.
Yes I Can is not associated with an earlier musical called Sammy, which was created by songwriter-librettist Leslie Bricusse, who also worked with Davis, and produced in 2009 at The Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, CA. It also is not related to another Davis-inspired show called Sammy & Me by Eric Jordan Young.
Yes I Can has a libretto by Jules Aaron, additional material by Terri Roberts, choreography by Vince Pesce (a Broadway dancer and associate choreographer who worked on the Tony-winning current Anything Goes), music direction by Shelton Becton and casting by Binder Casting.
Scalamoni said that he expects a cast of about 20 to perform in the five weeks of rehearsals, which will culminate in industry presentations. He said the length of the process will benefit the new show. A one-week reading can be “useful,” he said, but five weeks is a serious commitment by producers — a chance to “go into a studio and work on it and figure it out…that’s what will give it the best chance for longevity.”
Scalamoni directed the tour of Nickelodeon’s Storytime Live! and the tour of The Gazillion Bubble Show. He is the artistic director of Skyline Theatre Company in New Jersey.
The Yes I Can workshop is scheduled for Feb. 7-March 30. Casting is ongoing.
Sammy Davis Jr. (1925-1990) was the vivacious Harlem-born triple threat — singer, dancer, actor — seen in nightclubs, on Broadway in Mr. Wonderful and Golden Boy, in films (“Robin and the 7 Hoods,” “Sweet Charity,” “Ocean’s Eleven,” “Tap”) and heard on recordings. Some of his memorable recordings include “The Candy Man,” “Mr. Bojangles,” “Gonna Build a Mountain,” “I’ve Gotta Be Me,” “Too Close for Comfort,” “What Kind of Fool Am I?,” among others.