In re-imagining the all too brief but meteoric career of singer-actor Bobby Darin, Kevin Spacey, both as star and director of “Beyond the Sea,” premiering at the Smith Opera House on May 12, has created a highly empathetic portrait of a man for whom music was literally the thing that kept him alive.
Spacey flat out admires Bobby Darin. He admires him as a performer, as a person driven by an ambition to achieve as much as he can in a short span of time and, most importantly, he admires him as a man, flaws and all. Here he makes a persuasive case that Darin's achievements should not suffer from neglect. Indeed his signature tune “Mack the Knife” and his hit “Beyond the Sea” are undoubtedly playing on some radio station at any moment of the day.
The young actor (a precocious William Ullrich) who plays Bobby as a boy interrupts the staging to insist the opening is wrong. So the two Bobbys put their heads together and think back to the time when everything changed for Darin. At age 7, rheumatic fever permanently damages his heart and a doctor predicts he will never reach age 15.
This is the time when his mom Polly (Brenda Blethyn) gives him the gift of music. The piano, drums, a guitar and his singing turn him into a dynamo who intends to conquer show biz. Supported by his sister Nina (Caroline Aaron) and her husband Charlie (Bob Hoskins) and backed up by a manger (John Goodman) and music director (Peter Cincotti), Bobby sets out to make the world forget Sinatra.
Scenes play across time as the boy and the adult Bobby re-examine their journey through hopes and triumphs, fame and misfortune that nearly destroys both him and his idyllic marriage to movie star Sandra Dee (Kate Bosworth). They meet in Italy while shooting a picture. Over the objections of her stern stage mother Mary (Greta Scacchi), Bobby woos Sandy with the movie's title song.
Even the couple's down-turn — her into alcohol and him into a bitter reaction to public rejection of his changing musical style — Spacey views as a heroic struggle with issues of identity, ambition and an artist's need to change.
The Smith screens “Beyond the Sea” at 7 p.m. May 12, 13 and 14, at 2 p.m. May 15 and at 7 p.m. May 16 and 17. Rated PG-13 for some strong language and a scene of sensuality, this film has a running time of two hours. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for students and senior citizens. All seats are $3 on Thursday and $2 on Tuesdays. Call 315-781-LIVE or toll-free 866-355-LIVE for details or to reserve tickets.
The Smith Opera House is located at 82 Seneca Street in Geneva. The Smith is supported, in part, with public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, the City of Geneva, the Town of Geneva and by contributions from individual supporters.