Brian d'Arcy James
Under The Influence
Dunstan Playhouse Adelaide Festival Centre June 18 - 19 2014
Reviewed by Peter Wilkins
In a conservative cabaret grey suit, subtle tie and polished black shoes actor, singer and Music Theatre star Brian d’Arcy James looks more like a public servant than the Broadway shining light of such shows as The Apple Tree, Next To Normal, Titanic and Shrek the Musical in which he played the title role. His is the uniform of the cabaret greats – of Sinatra, Martin, and Bennett. Smooth and svelte and with a voice capable of gliding with gentle emotion and soaring with passionate power, d’Arcy James fondles the microphone like an old friend and acknowledges his backing band on piano, Bass, drums and guitar with appreciative warmth.
Under the Influence honours the artists that inspired the kid from Saginaw, Michigan. The pop singers of the seventies and eighties stirred the ambitions of a lad destined to be a Broadway star with two Tony Award nominations to his name. His one hour cabaret show is recognition of the link between those teenage musical heroes and the Broadway musicals, some of which are now being composed by artists such as Sting, Carol King, Bob Dylan and Phil Collins. His hero, Billy Joel has written the musical Moving Out with Twyla Tharp.
From Sondheim to Stevie Wonder, another Saginaw lad, d’Arcy James takes his eager audience along the varied musical paths that have shaped his career but never veered from his love for the songs that inspired him along the way. There is no artifice to the performance. His voice is strong and sure, his breathing the well-trained servant of his passion and his charm relaxed and easy with band and audience. He is the artist in whose company you feel entirely secure, willingly seduced by his song and his stories of auditioning for his idol, Billy Joel, or his mentor, the late, great Marvin Hamlisch. His respect for their great talent imbues his renditions of Billy Joel’s She’s Got A Way or Marvin Hamlisch’s I Cannot Hear The City from his musical Sweet Smell of Success with sweeping emotion that carries the listener along on his song of sentiment.
Pop, Rock and Roll and Musical Theatre merge in d’Arcy James’s catalogue of influences. The less familiar Tempted By The Fruit of Another by The Squeeze features with the lesser known song We Can Build A City Of Man from Stephen Schwartz’s Godspell or the haunting A Light In The Dark from the smash hit musical, Next To Normal. Along the way, d’Arcy-James casts his heart back to the Saginaw composers, whose names may be unknown, but whose songs are classics of their time. Isham Jones’s It Had To Be You, John Legend’s All Of Me and of course Stevie Wonder’s Isn’t She Lovely. d’Arcy James’s love affair with his Pop and Rock heroes and his indulgent fantasies that have shaped his career find their resounding climax in Who I’d Be from Shrek the Musical.
This is d’Arcy James’s first visit to Australia and audiences at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival can count themselves lucky to be seduced by his charm, overwhelmed by his easy professionalism and entertained by a voice that holds his audience in its Pop, Rock and Musical sway. If you ever have the chance to see this star of Broadway, don’t stay in the dark. Happy are they who can say “I came under the influence of Brian d’Arcy-James”.