James' 'IMBECILE D'AMOUR' a Beautifully Sung Showcase

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James' 'IMBECILE D'AMOUR' a Beautifully Sung Showcase

Having made his Broadway debut in the complexly stylized CORAM BOY and continuing on to Lincoln Center's lush Tony Award winning revival of SOUTH PACIFIC (not to mention a hilarious guest-spot in the Steve Martin "Gavin Valore" episode of 30 ROCK), Zachary James is spending the Fall in Chicago with the pre-Broadway run of Andrew Lippa's highly anticipated THE ADDAMS FAMILY, playing the Addams' manservant, Lurch.  It is hard to miss a guy like James; he is a thin and tall man with an exquisitely focused baritone.  His one-man show, IMBECILE D'AMOUR, ran October 25th at Gorilla Tango Theatre.

At the top of D'AMOUR, James' towering presence, with dark sullen eyes and shaved head, emerges in from the shadows.  The Imbecile, who's a macabre mix of CABARET's Emcee and a Vaudevillian opera divo, takes the stage lit by nothing more than a lonely light bulb. The shadows and shapes created by his wandering hand are startlingly beautiful against Gorilla Tango's upstage brick wall.  The mood is thick with dark wonder as Jonathan Rose plays the performance's opening chords.

And then Zachary James sings and you are transformed through a lyrical 40 minutes of baritonal bliss.

With Rose on piano, Kiersten Cunningham on violin, and the ever-present Amour, played by the gracefully stilettoed Rachel Brown, D'AMOUR isn't quite a cabaret, nor is it specifically an operatic recital.  What James has constructed is a dark, music hall through-line of love, loss, moving on, and the consequences in between.  Using the work of Willson, Weill, and Hevner (to name a few) as D'AMOUR's set-list, James' conceit replaces bawdy sets and flashy lights with bare theatrical necessities: floodlights, a chair, and a voice.

James' 'IMBECILE D'AMOUR' a Beautifully Sung Showcase

Full disclosure: seven years after Madame Schoon pounded irregular verbs into my skull, my French comprehension is not what it used to be.  That being said, I could listen to James' rendition of Reynaldo Hahn's "L'Heure Exquise" on repeat for hours on end without ever growing tired of it.  From the moment he illuminates his lovelorn Imbecile to the performance's lonely finale, "Exquise's" tune, tone, and resonance washes over the audience like a soothing wave of Parisian, well, amour.  IMBECILE D'AMOUR's one troublesome point? Teasing Sondheim's heavy "Later" (the original "angsty teen" show tune) on the violin and not following through with Henrik's glum and comical lyrics.

Had James opened further along during THE ADDAMS FAMILY's run, IMBECILE D'AMOUR might have had a larger audience.  For whether or not James realizes it yet, his name is in for a world of star-power draw in the upcoming months - in Chicago, New York, and beyond.  If he decides to perform his one-man D'AMOUR in Chicago again, it's bound to have musical theatre and vocal aficionados filling Gorilla Tango (or any other off-Loop theatre) to the brim.

THE ADDAMS FAMILY runs November 13, 2009 - January 10, 2010 at the Ford Center/Oriental Theatre.  For tickets, visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.  For more information on Zachary James' upcoming performances, visit www.zachjames.com.

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M. William Panek William graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a BFA in Stage Direction. Most recently, he staged The Brown Paper Box Co.'s actor-musician revival of Godspell. He also directed the world premiere of To Tree at the Heartland Studio, Reefer Madness! The Musical at the Viaduct Theater in 2010, and its subsequent 4/20 mountings in 2011 at Studio BE and 2012 at Stage 773. Past directing and assistant directing credits include And Then They Came For Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank, Pippin, Nine, The Last 5 Years, and performing in Leonard Bernstein's Mass. Since graduating, William was an artistic associate with The Orchard Project's 2007 session in Hunter, NY, a production assistant for 2008's The 24-Hour Musicals at Joe's Pub, and the business management assistant at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2011. He currently resides in Edgewater and can be found on Twitter @mwilliampanek.


 
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