Barbara Cook’s Spotlight: Brian d’Arcy James at The Kennedy Center

With precise control and an air of cosmopolitan confidence, the prolific Brian d’Arcy James captivated The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater in his unique concert Friday night.  Careening through a set of seventeen musical pieces and accompanied by the superb Music Director and pianist Dan Lipton, d’Arcy James presented a concert that alternated between show tunes and pop standards in an intriguing manner.  d’Arcy James has long been known to jump genres from stage (Shrek, The Sweet Smell of Success, Next to Normal) to television (Smash and The Big C) to film (Admission and Game Change) and he certainly jumped around with an eclectic mix of songs from the more plaintive and romantic to the more upbeat and contemporary.

Brian d'arcy James. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

Brian d’arcy James. Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.

He said that he wanted to sing the songs that had influenced him growing up as well as those that are part of his repertoire.  The concert, though interspersed with some more melancholy songs, had an optimistic tone and d’Arcy James’ patter between songs was amusing and lively.  The theme of urban life and cities was shown with a backdrop which consisted of a visual projection of a cluster of tall buildings crowded together.

The opening song, the moving “She Cries” by Jason Robert Brown, sent chills down the spine as d’Arcy James soared to a rising crescendo and, then, held out the concluding words—“she cries”—with a soft whisper.

After a pleasing rendition of the pop song “Vienna” by Billy Joel, d’Arcy James launched into a medley of songs entitled “Saginaw Medley.”  All three songs had one unifying theme in common –namely, that they were all written by songwriters who were born in Saginaw, Michigan. Accompanied with verve and bounce by pianist Dan Lipton, d’Arcy James delivered a jaunty medley consisting of the songs “It Had to Be You,” “All of Me,” and —especially—Stevie Wonder’s ebullient “Isn’t She Lovely?”.

Next came a very natural and intuitive rendering of an original song (written by himself and Lipton) entitled “Pocatello” which was based on his beloved father. Rendered with crisp, clean diction (a point that should be made: EVERY word sung by the artist was very cleanly delivered with stunning and precise diction) yet with a concurrent emotional flexibility and sense of longing. He  started with a deep, resonant tone and concluded with a reflective almost tenor-like tone.

d’Arcy James enlightened the crowd as to his admiration for the work of Billy Joel as he narrated the tale of skipping a critical basketball game, while growing up, to go with a friend to see Joel’s concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  He, then, sang a swooning and lush rendition of Billy Joel’s “She’s Got a Way”.

A change of pace ensued when d’Arcy James offered a beautifully evocative and reflective cover of Johnny Mercer’s “When October Goes.” He held out the last notes for a very melancholy effect. A poignant piano solo aided immeasurably and made the song a highlight of the evening. Then came “Seven Days” by Sting with a very lively, almost staccato-like sense of rhythm.

The song “How Glory Goes” from the acclaimed musical Floyd Collins was another standout of the evening.  The resonant texture of Adam Guettel’s score was accentuated by d’Arcy James’ intuitive understanding of the flavor of the lyrics.

Like many of the past performances I have reviewed, Brian d’Arcy James followed suit in his admiration for the late, lamented and lovable composer Marvin Hamlisch. He then proceeded to sing a very down-to-earth and intuitive heartfelt cover of Hamlisch’s “I Can Do That” from A Chorus Line, followed by an underrated gem from Hamlisch’s Sweet Smell of Success (which he appeared in on Broadway) entitled “I Cannot Hear the City.”  Here d’Arcy James evoked the feelings of the ultimate romantic dwelling on his lover and shutting out the noise of the city.

The plaintive expression of angst and loneliness was portrayed movingly in the song “Light In the Dark” from Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s musical hit Next to Normal (which d’Arcy James also appeared in Off-Broadway

Another total change of pace occurred when d’Arcy James shot into a highly-charged rendition of the pop classic “Tempted” by the group Squeeze.

Stephen Schwartz’s gorgeous and mystical “Beautiful City”(which was added to the film version of Godspell but not in the original stage score) was delivered to mesmerizing effect as the concert neared its end.

Next up were two wondrous songs entitled “Who I’d Be”from Shrek  and  Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.”

To loud applause—for his encore, d’Arcy James sang a very complex, moving and amusing song entitled “Saratoga Summer Song” by Katie McGarrigle.  His skilled interpretation of the lyrics showed the complexities of two souls lamenting the passing of a freedom-filled summer in Saratoga, New York with the Skidmore College students arriving, the days of the New York City ballet performing at the Performing Arts Center and the “freaks” going underground.

Brian d’Arcy James is a unique, distinctive, and confident artist.

Running Time:  75 minutes, with no intermission.

Barbara Cook’s Spotlight: Brian d’Arcy James was presented on March 7, 2014 at The Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater. Check future Kennedy Center performances here.


Brian d’arcy James’ website.

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