Bobby Darin Who? Jonathan Groff Gets It Now

“I went on YouTube,” said Mr. Groff, speaking before an early rehearsal at the Y, where “The Bobby Darin Story” will kick off the new “Lyrics” season from Jan. 20 to 22. “I watched all these TV performances, from the beginning to the end of his career, and I was blown away by his versatility. The rock & roll and the standards, the dancing, the folk songs. The duets with George Burns and Judy Garland. His life was insane.”

Photo

Bobby Darin performing on “American Bandstand” in 1959.

Credit
ABC Photo Archives, via Getty Images

Mr. Groff — also known for his cheekily effete, Tony-nominated performance of King George III in “Hamilton,” and TV roles in “Glee,” “Looking” and “Mindhunter” — was discussing his new “obsession” with the show’s director Alex Timbers, the music director Andy Einhorn and Mr. Chapin.

Mr. Timbers, the director of “Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson” and “Here Lies Love,” was brought into the project by Mr. Groff. The two had met last spring to discuss another collaboration, but couldn’t coordinate their schedules.

Mr. Timbers said he was intrigued by the chance to reconsider the performer’s career. “It’s interesting to ask if Bobby Darin’s legacy has been negatively impacted by the fact you couldn’t put him in a box,” said Mr. Timbers. “He was always chasing the next wave in music. In one of our first conversations, we were talking about people like Madonna, how she was ahead of the whole EDM thing with ‘Ray of Light.’ Or U2, when they released ‘Pop.’ ”

If Darin’s singing could seem slicker and less distinctive than that of his more celebrated contemporaries, his range was indeed expansive, encompassing rock (“Splish Splash”), lush and jazzy pop (“Dream Lover,” “Beyond The Sea”) and show tunes and songbook staples (“Mack the Knife,” most famously).

He also ventured into film acting, founded a record label and music publishing company, and, as his political awareness grew, crafted “Simple Song of Freedom,” a pacifist anthem for the Vietnam era.

Darin pursued goals like he was running out of time — “like he had a stopwatch on his life,” noted Mr. Timbers. And with good reason: childhood bouts with rheumatic fever had left the performer’s heart severely weakened; he would die at 37. He nonetheless…

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