BWW Reviews: Brian D'Arcy James Brings Saginaw Charm to DC
Right after I graduated college, I jumped on a bus from Boston to New York for a special occasion. I was having my 3rd callback for Rent. While I was there, I was determined to pretend I was a real live New Yorker. Little did I know real live New Yorkers don't usually attend 4 shows in a week.
Following my audition, my first priority was to see Titanic. Why? Because there was a guy in it whose voice I'd fallen in love with. He'd been on the Rosie O'Donnell show about a dozen times singing from Titanic and I needed to see him.
Naturally, he was great that night. He even took some time to give a hopeful young actor some career advice outside the stage door.
Tonight, Brian D'Arcy James made me fall in love with him all over again. One of the stars gracing the Kennedy Center stage in Barbara Cook's Spotlight Series, he brought his warm presence and glorious sound to the nation's capital.
The program was an eclectic one which D'Arcy James introduced with his own play on the old adage that writers should write what they know. His version? "Singers should sing whatever the hell they want." The audience was certainly glad to oblige him.
Opening with Jason Robert Brown's "She Cries," D'Arcy James then led us through some of his childhood with an homage to songwriters from Saginaw, Michigan - his hometown. "It Had to be You," "All of Me" and "Isn't She Lovely" not only provided a history/geography lesson, but quickly showed off a seemingly endless versatility and range.
A tribute to his father, D'Arcy James performed "Pocotello," a song he collaborated on with musical director Dan Lipton, which then gave way to some of the popular music that helped shape his youth. Some Billy Joel, followed by the beautiful "When October Goes," with lyrics by Johnny Mercer and music by Barry Manilow.
What I enjoy most about cabaret performances and intimate solo concerts is that you get to spend a little time with artists you care about. It provides you a little glimpse into who they are, as opposed to a role they're performing. Not everyone gets this right as it's a fine line to walk between vulnerability and awkwardness - happily, D'Arcy James got the chemistry just right, inviting the crowd in and making it feel as though he was singing to you in his living room over a couple drinks.
He closed out the evening with a tribute to DC favorite, Marvin Hamlisch as well as some of the songs from shows we're more likely to recognize him from including Adam Guettel's "How Glory Goes" from Floyd Collins, "I Cannot Hear the City" from Sweet Smell of Success and a clever mashup of Shrek's "Who I'd Be" and Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes."
This was my second time attending one of Barbara Cook's Spotlight concerts - the first being Laura Benanti's about 4 years back. As I'd mentioned, it's an excellent opportunity to spend some time with some of those performers you admire most. Wrapping up this year's season will be D'Arcy James' fellow SMASH alum, Megan Hilty. Next season's series has also just been announced with concerts from Faith Prince, Andrea McArdle, Will Chase, La Chanze and Malcolm Gets. For tickets and more information, visit www.kennedy-center.org.