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Brian d'Arcy James: Under The Influence

The Broadway star showcases his love of pop music in this infectious new show at 54 Below.

By New York City
Brian d'Arcy James
Brian d'Arcy James
Brian d'Arcy James has shown us many sides of his personality via his stage characters, from the romantic stoker Barrett in Titanic to the deeply cynical newspaper columnist Sidney Falco in Sweet Smell of Success to the tough-skinned, tender-hearted ogre in Shrek The Musical. But who could know there was a rock-pop troubadour bursting to get out from beneath all those costumes (and green makeup)?

Now we all do, thanks to Under the Influence, James' utterly infectious new cabaret show at 54 Below. Here, the actor reveals a delicious looseness that, somewhat surprisingly, co-exists beautifully with his sterling baritenor. The only real question one has during this show is who is having more fun: James or the audience?

Backed by a fantastic seven piece-band led by Dan Lipton (no relation) and accompanied on vocals by former Broadway co-stars Clarke Thorell and Haven Burton, James tirelessly tackles a dozen or so pop tunes -- many from the 1970s and 1980s -- with integrity, humor, and, when called for, true abandon.

As might be expected, love is the theme of almost all of the songs, no matter when they were written. He does his childhood idol, Billy Joel, proud with a suite of love songs, bookending Joel's megahit "She's Got a Way" with two lesser-known Joel tunes, "Worse Comes to Worst" and "Everybody Loves You Now." (The accompanying story of how he skipped a pivotal high school basketball game to attend his first Joel concert is downright adorable, as well.)

A decidedly goofy choice, Bobby Sherman's pop hit "Julie Do Ya Love Me" turns into a giddy, lilting singalong; the iconic Carly Simon-James Taylor version of "Mockingbird" (featuring guest vocalist Lauren Kinhan of New York Voices) practically raises the roof, while Adele's "I'll Be Waiting" is wailed at full throttle, each song receiving its desired result.

However, the show's greatest strength lies in its quieter moments. James finds added depth in the lyrics of two pop classics, Genesis' seemingly simple "That's All" and Squeeze's clever and catchy "Tempted," offers soul-stirring renditions of Gabe Dixon's contemplative "All Will Be Well" and Kate McGarrigle's gorgeous "Saratoga Song," and even proves to be a fine lyricist himself on the heartfelt "Don't Hold It Against Me" (co-written with Lipton), which he dedicated to his wife, Jennifer.

Fortunately (or perhaps not), Brian d'Arcy James and his love of pop cannot be bought over the counter, or one might find oneself permanently under the influence of this vibrant show. So for now, go to 54 Below, and c'mon, get happy.


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