I never saw Dean Martin or Jerry Lewis in their heyday.
Their television show, the radio programs, their movies were well before my time.
The Martin and Lewis night club routines – and the nightclubs themselves – were over and gone before I ever had a chance to experience the “organ grinder and the monkey,” as Lewis once called the two of them.
Dean & Jerry: What Might Have Been, created and directed by Jesse Collins, made me regret just what I had missed.
With his elastic face, manic, impossible expressions and a body apparently strung on wires, Nick Arnold, evoking Jerry Lewis, was a comic wonder.
Suave, laid-back, slyly witty, there were times, especially when he sang that fantastic music, that Derek Marshall appeared to be directly channeling Dean Martin.
Together, the two of them were theatrical dynamite.
From the cheers and the laughter which rocked Upper Canada Playhouse, and the voices that sang eagerly along in numbers like “That’s Amore” and “Volare”, there was little doubt that the entire production struck a deep chord with audiences.
In an earlier interview with the Leader, creator/director Jesse Collins stressed that Marshall and Arnold were not attempting to “impersonate” Martin and Lewis. Instead the actors were evoking a special time, a certain place and two men who were once the best known entertainers throughout most of the world.
Collins built his Dean & Jerry script around three “acts”: the years Martin and Lewis were together, the years they were estranged, and what might have been, in later years, if they had reunited.
“Act I” felt like being table-side at the Copacabana, or the Havana. Marshall and Arnold played with the crowd, just as Lewis and Martin once did. (I couldn’t tell when they were using actual Dean and Jerry routines or ad-libbing – and it made no difference.)
“See that guy there in the front row! He’s either asleep or he’s left us.”
“I’ll teach you to kiss my wife!”
“I don’t need no lessons.”
The audience was often in tears – of laughter.
Raucous, outrageous, brilliant, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were first and foremost always entertainers.
The shock of “Act II” when they split up seemed all the greater because they were so good together.
However, “the jokes were getting more and more personal and meaner. There were tensions and backstage fights,” the actors explained.
After the breakup, each man went on to solo careers, again achieving a different, personal kind of greatness.
Dean was scoring musical triumphs in an era of the Beatles, breaking into the movies, headlining his own hit t.v. show.
Jerry was at the top too with leads in the Delicate Delinquent and the Nutty Professor, and with an actual chart hit. He eventually signed on to the MDA Telethon which would bring in over 2 billion research dollars.
Still Nick Arnold hinted at a certain sadness woven through these Martin and Lewis solo years, with one poignant song: “I’ll Go My Way By Myself.”
“Act III” of the show was a fantasy delight straight out of playwright Collins’ imagination.
It was 1976 and “Dean and Jerry” were back together!
Arnold and Marshall sang again, they danced and joked again: the audience was thrilled.
It was a perfect way to end the production.
And one additional note about perfection.
Led by the multi-talented Meredith Zwicker, John Minnis, Logan Coey, Jamie Bestwick and Tariq Amery, members of the live on-stage band for Dean & Jerry: What Might Have Been, were nothing short of fantastic.
This show would simply not have been possible without their talents.
Jesse Collins’ Dean & Jerry: What Might Have Been deserved its loud ‘Bravos!’