Now you can hear the radio feature above – including some of “A Cradle in Bethlehem,” Ted Davey’s last performance. Also, a gathering for Ted will be held at the Sammons Center for the Arts, Friday, Jan. 5th, 6 pm. Donations in Ted’s memory should be sent to texasoncologyfoundation.org for the Baylor Sammons Cancer Center.
“The Fezziwig Party” scene from the clown vaudeville ‘Dr. Hamm’s Christmas Carol’ – with Ted Davey and Chamblee Ferguson attempting to perform all the characters while Edmund Coulter narrates. Directed by Raphael Parry. Forgive the fuzziness and shakes, the hand-held video was shot by Jerome Weeks 24 years ago.
Ted Davey, owner of the Balcony Club, passed away Friday, December 22nd, his widow Lorena announced on her Facebook page. He’d been in hospice care for two weeks — after having struggled against abdominal cancer for more than a decade.
Poignantly, Ted Davey’s last publicly-viewed performance was singing on a pre-taped WFAA ‘Good Morning Texas’ Christmas segment that was recorded in October but broadcast the morning of his death. Davey delivers a moving rendition of Nat King Cole’s ‘A Cradle in Bethlehem’ – made all the more touching by his apparent thinness and frailty from his illness.
Even so, a few weeks after that October taping, Davey was out performing a “North Texas tour,” singing Frank Sinatra standards in front of a big-band, 40-piece orchestra in McKinney, Frisco and the Eisemann Center in Richardson.
Three weeks ago, in his room at the Baylor Cancer Center before he went into hospice care, Davey said the tour nights were some of the greatest he’d ever had.
Which is saying something, considering Davey’s remarkable, if not to say highly unusual career on stage — from acting in an avant-garde theater in Deep Ellum to singing in Las Vegas clubs and lounges to returning to Dallas and running perhaps the city’s most venerable late-night jazz and blues club.
In the mid-’80s, Davey became a member of the Undermain Theater. He regularly appeared in the company’s signature dark comedies and absurdist dramas: David Rabe’s ‘Goose and Tomtom,’ Howard Barker’s ‘The Possiblities,’ Len Jenkins’ ‘Poor Folk’s Pleasure.’ He stood out, playing buffoonish lowlifes, foolish peasants and menacing, mumbling figures.
He was, says Katherine Owens, co-founder of the Undermain, “a classic character actor, the most important kind of actor a theater can have,” able to fit into all sorts of roles. “And then we heard him sing. My God, that voice. It was unbelievable, like he could sing anything and make it sound gorgeous.” Owens laughs. “So we started working in musical numbers for him any time we could. Hearing Ted sing in that operatic manner — and seeing the audience response — made me realize just what theater could accomplish.’
In particular, though, Davey was a seemingly effortless, fearless comic actor, utterly committed to the most ridiculous, most stagey ploys. In one of my reviews of Davey for ‘The Dallas Morning News,’ I called him so young yet absolutely in command of the stage and what he was doing, “a miniature Jackie Gleason. Many performers would kill for his elfin ability to pluck laughs from a gesture, a look, a pause.”
He starred in the classic Italian commedia farce, ‘Two Cuckolds,’ at the Addison Centre Theatre (now the WaterTower). At the same theater, he performed in ’21A,’ a one-man show in which he played eight demented characters getting on and off a city bus. These included a middle-aged woman in hairnet and curlers who chatters to no one as well as a man who wears a beer carton over his face and proclaims himself “Captain Twelve Pack.”
“Ted,” says Owens, “would do absolutely anything. You never knew what he’d come up with.”
During a clown training session at the Undermain in the late ’80s, all the Undermain company members had to don a red nose, often called ‘the world’s smallest mask.’ The simple nose transformed many people’s faces. It signaled “I’m a circus clown! I’ve entered a silly world!’
The red nose made no difference at all to Davey’s face. It just seemed a natural extension of his comic self.
But Davey had his serious side: In 1991, in an unusual move, he adapted and directed a stage version of Shakespeare’s poem, ‘Venus and Adonis,’ at the Undermain – and got excited reviews for his work in interpreting “a grand passion for a bunch of couch potatoes,” as he said in an interview at the time.
Davey topped out this part of his stage career by, more or less, hitting the North Texas big time: He was cast in a series of comic roles at the Dallas Theater Center in the early 1990s including the 1937 screwball comedy ‘Room Service,’ ‘A Christmas Carol’ and Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It.’
But almost immediately after — having spent 12 years on North Texas stages — Davey moved to Las Vegas in the early ’90s and reinvented himself as a club singer. It seemed an incredible transformation for a hilarious actor who once played a character named ‘Porpy’ at the old Deep Ellum Theatre Garage – while wearing a rubber shark mask on his head.
But Davey had been singing solos since he was four, his widow Lorena says, and he’d always enjoyed the old-style glamor of Vegas in its Rat Pack heyday – with its tongue-in-cheek swank but also its appreciation of the Great American Songbook from swing jazz through Broadway and pop. Over a decade, Davey formed two different singing trios, first the Las Vegas Tenors, then the Voices 3. With them and on his own, he played such venues as the Stardust and the Venetian Room, and he and Lorena first sang together onstage at the Las Vegas Hilton. In 2007, Davey was named Vegas’ Entertainer of the Year.
Davey had a classic velvety voice, reaching up into an Irish tenor but also comfortable down in a warm baritone. It made him an easy, natural crooner, covering standards made famous by Sinatra, Mel Torme and Tony Bennett. Having first worked in Vegas as a singing gondolier, he could even foray into opera.
Here he is in 2009, singing ‘Just in Time’ with Tommy Deering on the piano:
Davey was born in 1963 in Alton, Illinois, to a large, Irish-American Catholic family — he has four sisters and five brothers. That, Owens says, may explain his easy ability to work with acting companies: “If there was a rehearsal and you needed to bring food, Ted didn’t just bring the chips. He brought a dozen bags of chips. He always brought more than enough.”
He first attended Millikin University in Decatur, Illinois, but earned his BFA in acting and performance from UT-Austin. After that, he was Dallas-bound.
In 2010, Davey returned to Dallas from Las Vegas — the area had both a lively music and theater scene and his wife Lorena and her family could live here. In 2013, after protracted negotiations, Davey purchased the Balcony Club from long-time owner Tommy Stanco. The club is situated on the second floor of the old Lakewood movie theater and had become a local institution in the 25 years Stanco ran it. But the club was on its last legs, it had nearly closed or been sold numerous times.
Davey said he always wanted to be a ‘singing saloon keeper,’ and delighted in being at the club. He revived it, transforming it into a favorite late-night hangout for musicians and singers. With Dallas Theater Center actor-singer Liz Mikel, he made Monday night at the Balcony – typically a club’s slowest evening – into a popular showcase for Mikel and other local talent.
“What Ted did for Dallas, for the Lakewood neighborhood, for local musicians,” says Mikel, “we should be grateful. The man had heart. And he loved the craft, the advice he gave me about singing cabaret, telling a story, I learned so much.”
Davey also enjoyed joining the band on stage, sometimes singing with Lorena. The two returned to Vegas on occasion to perform and visit friends, as well as singing in cabaret nights at the Sammons Center and performing on cruise ships that took them to Spain, Greece, Turkey and France.
In addition to Lorena, he is survived by his father, Charles Daniel Davey and his nine siblings. The future of the Balcony Club has been put in doubt with the recent major renovations done at the Lakewood Theater — whether the club would remain there, expand its tiny space or find a new home.
Three weeks ago at the Baylor Cancer ward, Davey said arrangements had been made for Lorena to continue running the club.
So fittingly, we’ll go out with Ted himself singing “One for My Baby” in a Cabaret and Cabernet evening at the Sammons Center: