BWW Interview: Brian d'Arcy James Reveals Details on 54 Below Shows!
Brian d'Arcy James, an accomplished Broadway actor and singer whose musical range includes pop and rock, is eagerly awaiting his second cabaret appearance at 54 Below from Sept. 5 to 7.
Fans will recognize him from Broadway musicals and plays (BLOOD BROTHERS, TITANIC, SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS), from concerts at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and performing for President Obama and family at the White House.
James chooses many of his songs from among the favorites he heard in his childhood. "I grew up singing songs I heard on cassettes, it was that long ago," he said. "And my concert performances will include songs that will be familiar to the audience, as well as those they might not recognize."
He thoroughly enjoys singing in a club setting. You can say he loves a cabaret. "It's an entirely selfish endeavor," he said. "I was weaned on pop music and I wanted to satisfy my vision.
"The great thing now I'm ready to sing things people expect of me, maybe songs from Broadway and pop songs," he said.
James is a big booster for contemporary pop music. "I love a band called Squeeze. 'Tempted' was a big hit for this group. I'm a big Billy Joel fan - he was my first musical obsession."
"I don't sing the most popular songs," he said. "I'm going to sing songs that I listened to quite a bit, like 'Worse Comes to Worst,' and 'Everybody Loves You Now,' " he said. "Everyone knows Billy Joel, but they might not know these songs."
By the time James had moved to New York, Joel's catalog had made a lasting impression on him. "I felt very close to the geographical references he made - from Long Island to the city," he said.
Billy Joel is not the only source of inspiration. "I'm going to do a Sting song, 'Seven Days,' which is cool and interesting."
James also admires Adele and plans to cover one of her songs. "I know some of her hits are amazing," he said, "and hopefully we'll do it in a way that makes sense."
When he debuted this concert last year at 54 Below, he felt the pressure of following a megastar. "Last year I followed Patti LuPone. That was a little intimidating. What I loved about the invitation I received to play was the fact it was a venue I hadn't performed in before.
"I didn't have a particular plan or style of singing," James said. "They just told me to come in and do what you want to do. They wanted Broadway songs, of course, because audiences love those. But it's also a good way for people to experience other sounds.
"It's a great room and I have a great band. I wanted to go big with the band because I'm used to hearing a lot of oomph behind me," he said, referring to his Broadway experience. "I was definitely nervous with having such a big sound. I was worried people would roll their eyes, thinking 'What the hell is he doing?' "
Another highlight in his singing career was when James performed for President Obama at the White House, "I was pretty nervous," he said with a laugh. "It was definitely an experience I'll never forget. Nathan Lane was the host and taking a car with him to the White House was pretty cool. The handlers of the event were helpful as well.
"They did a good job prepping us - they told us to make eye contact with the Obamas immediately, and once you do so, you'll feel more comfortable and relaxed," he recalled. "It was a great piece of advice. Once you realize who they are, you don't have to worry about them."
One thing he didn't expect was to follow a child. "A little 8-year-old girl belted out her song and I remember thinking 'Omigod, I have to follow her!' He sang Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies."
"Elaine Stritch was there, and so was Audra McDonald," he said. "It was Broadway at the White House." He also sang a duet with Lane, "Free," from A FUNNY THING HAPPENED ON THE WAY TO THE FORUM. "It was an extraordinary experience."
Brian d'Arcy James will be performing Sept. 5 to 7 at 54 Below, 254 W. 54th St., near Eighth Avenue.