Donny Most is back with his first love, and we’re privileged to join them. Before Most was an actor, playing Ralph Malph on “Happy Days,” he was a singer. Nowadays he’s backed by a seven-piece combo on a national concert tour titled, “Donny Most Sings and Swings.” He absolutely does. His red hair is silver now — his 70s sitcom just marked its 40th anniversary! — but it’s encouraging to those of us who grew up watching the show to see how good he looks and how great he sounds. Don’t mistake his one-man show for celebrity self-indulgence or stunt-casting: Donny Most can really sing.
At Hollywood’s Rockwell Table and Stage on Tuesday night (December 30th) he rocked a capacity audience, which included colleagues such as Ron Howard and Marion Ross, back in Los Angeles after an East Coast tour including New York City performances at “Club 54” and “54 Below.” A scan of the audience showed fans from their late 20’s to blue-haired music fans, but everyone whose toes weren’t tapping were bobbing their heads and shaking their shoulders in time to the tunes. Most and his group spun a consistent and transporting musical aura, saluting standards and composers from almost every decade of the last century. With smooth and creditable covers, Most excited the audience by showing his serious knowledge through warm deliveries of the styles and timbres of the swing, jazz and rock-and-roll eras. Watching his enthusiasm and expertise, it was clear that he was enjoying the evening as much as his audience was.
Most’s backup group also spans a spectrum of ages, and they’re all terrific. Piano, saxophone and trumpet solos spurred the audience to spontaneous applause several times; the bass, trombone, guitar and drums were less showy but just as impressive. Any band with an amp can ramp up a crowd; the proof of the audience’s enjoyment was the rapt silences during the quieter passages.
Most has acted on television and directed several movies since “Happy Days” and uses the name “Don Most” on his web sites, but he prefers to be called “Donny Most” because that’s how people know him. He adores the Swing Era, and delivers the decades’ music smoothly and convincingly. Shifting easily between vocal styles, Most pays homage to The Chairman of the Board, Dean Martin, and his idol Bobby Darin. Most pays tribute, too, to the path that brought him back to his musical roots. Longtime friends and “Happy Days” co-stars Ron Howard and Marian Ross were in the audience; the band acknowledged them and surprised Most by breaking into the “Happy Days” theme after his encore. Most’s reaction was also a nod to the show. Shrugging his shoulders, he grinned and said, “I still got it” — one of Ralph Malph’s signature lines.
If you missed him in Hollywood last night, you can catch him at Hollywood’s Catalina Jazz Club in March and Vitello’s in April. He won’t be singing “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus” by spring, but his covers of standards like “Lady Is A Tramp,” “I Can’t GiveYou Anything But Love” and “It Had To Be You” will please audiences just as much. The Rockwell Table and Stage was a perfect venue for being transported by the music: an intimate room with dimmed lights, good acoustics and sight lines, and waiters skilled enough to deliver food and drinks without blocking the stage.
“Donny Most Sings and Swings” is a consistently satisfying transport into another era. Catch it if you can.
Of the show, reviewer Natalie Windsor, who is an award-winning journalist, for the Associated Press and local radio outlets. She’s authored books on travel, health, humor and
children’s fiction, and has performed the National Anthem at Dodger Stadium. Windsor is proud of being a past president of CEPTIA, the Committee to End Pay Toilets In America. Her current project is a book on Chicago’s Playboy Club.
Written By: Tommy Lightfoot Garrett
Photographs are Courtesy: 1.) Donny Most on Stage; 2.) Donny Most tribute to chairman of the board, Frank Sinatra; 3.) Ron Howard, Don Most and Marion Ross by Steve Neimand Photography
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