“Who loves you, baby?” was a famous Savalas line from TV’S popular Kojak. Written by Hunter Nelson, and developed over a three-year period, the show takes the premise that sex and romance were for real in the ‘70’s. It’s ironic, touching and hilarious. With his shaved head and brown eyes (so Telly-like), DiMenna introduces himself as a “legitimate, card carrying sex symbol,” and admonishes: “Put the porno away. Wear a silk shirt. Learn about life.”
Set in a bar/lounge at the Soho Playhouse, Alex Leonard plays cocktail music that gets you in the mood. For an hour plus, you’re in a never-never Telly world. DiMenna captures the quality that made Savalas special. He himself seemed to spoof his macho self. A good guy, Telly created special intimacy with his audience. “Greeks don’t threaten. They utter prophecies,” says DiMenna/Savalas. We particularly appreciated comic-noir lines like: “Have you ever fallen in love and had a baby by a gal you met by the cigarette machine?”
The actor puffs on an electronic cigarette, drinks a Tequilla Sunrise (the lollipop that Savalas used in an attempt to break the smoking habit comes out later), and points to the current lack of alpha males like himself on the small screen. Telly was Kojak, a no-nonsense Greek cop. And as DiMenna points out --who do we have now? David Caruso of CSI. The actor/comic says: “The fish are disappearing. Your whiskey’s watered down. What’s missing is guys like me.”
During the production, brother George arrives for a loving reunion, and the two break into a Zorbas dance. Savalas himself would probably have approved of DiMenna’s rendition of You've Lost That Loving Feeling.
I met the real Telly back then, having a Scotch/Rocks in the Westbury Hotel Bar on Madison Avenue after lunch, and creating his own party by bringing his drink out to the sidewalk. A charmer, he dazzled me and my eight-year-old nephew Nicholas who loved him as Kojak.
Savalas played the title character in Kojak, a cop show set in New York, airing from October, 1973 to March 1978 on ABC TV. Kojak’s Greek-American heritage, shared by Savalas, was prominently featured in the series. Initially, the character was Polish but the actor rechristened the character, and it worked. Telly’s brother, George, appeared as a character on the show (a brother playing a brother).
In 1999, TV Guide ranked Theo Kojak Number 18 on its 50 Greatest TV Characters of All Time list.
DiMenna, 32, an Italian-American became addicted to Savalas watching old clips from his TV shows. Three years ago, he teamed up with Hunter Nelson to create the comedic tour de force. “What started out as a comedy show became a celebration of ‘70’s charisma,” says DiMenna. The actor, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where he played quarterback on the football team, also spent a year in Italy playing with the Bologna Warriors. Growing up in Connecticut, his mother, a cabaret singer, frequently brought him into New York, often to “Don’t Tell Mama,” home of classic cabaret.
DiMenna has worked with the Second City in Chicago, done improv, and performed Shakespeare in London. Who Loves You Baby played last summer at New York’s Fringe Festival.
Taylor Negron directs the “surreal retro-lounge act.” Our Chief Editor at Wall Street Greek talks of a welcoming Negron, accompanying "The Greek" for a bite after the show. Markos Kaminis described Negron as “a candid and engaging man who earned his fame as a film actor and comedian, but with depth that is perhaps better explained by the man’s artwork and skill with the written word.”
The show’s on every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. through April, 2012 at The Huron Club, Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (off Sixth Ave). The theater is easy to reach, three blocks from the Houston Street (1 train) and Spring Street (C & E) subway stops. Contact: TellySavalasLive.com and get tickets here.
Other critics have weighed in on the show:
“You will not see a funnier play than Who Loves You Baby?! As Savalas, Tom DiMenna is hilarious and cool like Telly.” New York Theater Com.
“Who Loves You Baby? is hilarious. Tom DiMenna is front and center as a dead ringer for Savalas. It’s a brilliantly breezily bombastic performance.” Nitelife Exchange.
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