WHAT PERFORMER INFLUENCED YOU AS YOU WERE GROWING UP?
Darius de Haas
(Arci's Place, June 26-30, July 3-7)
"It happened in increments over the years, but I was very influenced by Billy Strayhorn, who was Duke Ellington's greatest collaborator. When I was very young, my mother, who is a performer, produced a tribute to Duke Ellington in Chicago. It was 1974, the year Ellington died. That's really when I fell in love with Strayhorn' work. I've been hearing his music sung by my mother, my uncle and of course, the greats--Ella, Lena, and Sarah--over many years. It sort of seeped into my subconsciousness. When I decided to do a cabaret concert, I called my friend Audra McDonald and asked her how she put her shows together. She told me to pick a composer and concentrate on his work. I thought it was a great idea to focus on someone specific and, around that time, I read Lush Life, the Strayhorn biography. It opened up a whole new world of information to me. Strayhorn also wrote for the theater and cabaret. He had a group called the Copacetics with Charles 'Honi' Coles, the great tap dancer. They did shows in clubs in the '50s and he would write special material for these evenings. It's been an interesting journey to try and find the crux of what the man was about, his contribution to Ellington's work, and of course, his own work. My research into his life has, hopefully, made me a better performer, because it's touched on so many things for me."
(Arci's Place, June 12-16, 19-23)
"I'm stumped. To pick one performer who has influenced me is impossible. I've taken so many different qualities from so many performers! When I was growing up in Georgia, I started imitating the great standard singers like Tony Bennett and Mel Torme. Those velvety smooth crooners really set a foundation for the way I like to sing and interpret songs. That's where it all started. In more contemporary music, Billy Joel was a huge influence on me. I love the way he writes songs and tells stories. He has a serviceable voice, but I love the way a composer sings his own songs. I'm currently doing a show called "The Kid Inside" and I'm performing a lot of Craig Carnelia's music. His voice is so fantastic when he sings his own material; I'm trying to stay very true to his style with my interpretation of the songs. As an actor, I love watching someone like Kevin Kline. He's all over the map with what he can do dramatically or comically. That's been a huge influence on me, because it's so easy in our business to get pigeonholed. I've been lucky enough to play roles like Jekyll, Hyde and Valjean in Les Misérables, but that's not who I am! That's why this act is a growth experience for me."
(Performing the finale of Broadway Bares at Roseland on June 17 )
"Bette Midler is the one and only diva. 'All Divine Miss M, All The Time!' is my motto! When I was a kid, my grandmother actually convinced me that she was singing, 'Julia, Julia, do you wanna dance?' instead of 'Do ya, do ya, do ya wanna dance?' The film Divine Madness really put me over the edge. If I were to do concerts, that's the way I'd want them to be. She sings funny songs, she sings rock and roll, and then she can quiet the place down and kill with a ballad. I know I sound nothing like her, but her whole joie appeals to me.
"I also picked up tiny things from other singers. My mom took me to see the Broadway musical Baby when I was young, and I loved it! I bought the LP, because it was the Mesozoic era, and I listened to it nonstop. Beth Fowler did a little fall-off on one of her notes that I completely stole and still do to this day. Maureen McGovern's records have influenced me a lot, too. When she sings, she sounds like the most amazing instrument. I love her control. My goal is to sing freely like Bette but not hurt my voice because of the knowledge I have from listening to singers like Maureen. Either that or just be Jennifer Holliday. It's the bane of my existence that I'm not a fabulous black woman, because I'll never be cast in Dreamgirls!"