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.
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.