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Brendan at the Chelsea

Brian d'Arcy James: Under the Influence

The Tony nominee returns to 54 Below with this enjoyable and geeky concert of songs from his youth.

By New York City
Brian d'Arcy James at 54 Below in 2012
Brian d'Arcy James at 54 Below in 2012
(© Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for 54 Below)

In Under the Influence, Brian d'Arcy James' cabaret act at 54 Below this past weekend, the secret word was "groovy." A return engagement of a well-received show he played there last summer, the Tony Award nominee, who is about to start rehearsals for Shakespeare's Macbeth at Lincoln Center Theater, takes us on a tour through what influenced him musically growing up. Judging by the set list, he's a funktastic child of the '70s and '80s.

Unlike some of his musical-theater colleagues who've also played the room, James isn't a natural at the between-song patter. Dressed in a gray suit and salmon-colored button down, it's easiest to describe his style as "adorable geek." He just wants to share some of his favorite songs, and that's really OK; he does so with the fervent and infectious enthusiasm of a child showing off his newest toy.

How else can you explain the excitement he conveys when he recalls how he discovered that the B side of Billy Joel's "Allentown" record contains a tune called "Elvis Presley Blvd.," a song lost to time except in the mind of aficionados? While that pairing doesn't appear in this concert, we are treated to a trio of Billy Joel's finest: the bouncy "Worst Comes to Worst," a tender "She's Got a Way," and a reimagined, swinging rendition of "Everybody Loves You Now."

The rest of the concert takes us through his musical influences. It's a mostly upbeat show (Kate McGarrigle's "Saratoga Spring" is the heartfelt encore) and, with the exception of an inspiring "Beautiful City" from Godspell, is entirely sans showtunes (which is a good thing). Perhaps the highlight is the classic Genesis tune "That's All," which closes the concert and gives James the opportunity to introduce his awesomely talented seven-piece band led by Dan Lipton on piano. Each member is just as much an asset as the lead singer; Damien Bassman and Greg Joseph provide solid backup on percussion; Paul Vercesi and Bob Millikan are expert horn players; and Erik Della Penna and Nicholas D'Amato are great guitarists.

If Brian d'Arcy James really does want to become a rock star, we should welcome it with open arms.

Tags: 54 BelowBrian d'Arcy JamesUnder the Influence

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