Following his New Year’s Eve blow-out in Palm Springs with the touring Rock of Ages Band, Dan Domenech (who was a lead in the Broadway production at the Helen Hayes Theatre) returned home for the triumphant New York debut of his Bootleg Famous cabaret last night at Feinstein’s/54 Below – his first solo appearance at the venue. Let’s hope it’s the first of many.
The show, which had its world premiere last summer at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, showcases the songs and stories that define Domenech and his career in musical theater, and have garnered him widespread popularity with fans around the world who’ve enjoyed both his live and recorded performances, and have become a part of his phenomenal following in person and across social media. Accompanied on piano by Musical Director David Gardos (as he was for the original show at PSF) and an expanded back-up band of Joe Nero on drums and Joe Wallace on electric and upright bass (laughingly referred to by Domenech as “David and the Sloppy Joes”), he – as always – thoroughly delighted the audience with his natural ease, genuine rapport, engaging stage presence, irresistible personality, and extraordinary voice, all enhanced by the intimacy of the warm and close-up nightclub setting.
Sharing his thoughts and recounting his experiences with characteristic openness and emotion, conveying the moods and relaying the empathy he feels for the lyrics of each of the significant songs he chose to perform, and dazzling his fans, old and new, with his flawless vocals and endearing attitude, Domenech affirmed his lifelong love and passion for his chosen profession (opening the show with a sincere and resonant “This Is the Moment” from Jekyll and Hyde), despite occasional bouts of homesickness when on tour (“Old Red Hills of Home” from Parade and “I Wanna Go Home” from Big) and times of stress while awaiting casting in a new show or beginning work on his next one (“Tearing the Tickets” from Starblasters and “What You’d Call a Dream”/”I’d Rather Be Sailing” – a beautiful and sensitive medley from Diamonds and A New Brain). His commentary throughout was honest and heartfelt – ad libbing that there’s no instruction manual or HR department to help get you through the hard times in show biz – preferring to dispense of the “awkward” reliance on a set script in favor of just being himself and talking candidly to his fans.
To accommodate the condensed 70-minute running time at 54 Below (which he happily exceeded by audience demand!), Domenech’s rearranged set contained thirteen of the eighteen songs from the longer 90-minute performance at PSF, cutting, among others, his unforgettable renditions of “Sensation” (The Who’s Tommy) and “Every Rose” (Rock of Ages), but adding some surprises and spontaneously repeating his memorable encore of Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” for the avid hometown room. Among the new material was a high-decibel powerhouse duet on Rent’s “Take Me or Leave Me” (by 54 Below favorite Jonathan Larson) with pop singer Ashley Loren, and a soulful version of Leiber and Stoller’s “Love Potion No. 9” that included segments of scatting, highlighting the singer’s versatility and paying homage to his recent run in the terrific Off-Broadway revival of Smokey Joe’s Cafe (as did “Ruby” – another highlight of the show, in which Domenech skillfully accompanied himself on acoustic guitar).
From the high-energy exuberance of his childhood, captured in his animated performances of “I Can’t Stand Still” (Footloose), “Fun” (Big: The Musical), and “Suppertime” (You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown), which totally thrilled with their youthful ebullience, to his “bootleg famous” illegally posted YouTube hit “Freeze Your Brain” from Heathers, and the funny story of his unexpected branding with bread that also spread like wildfire on the internet, Domenech captivated and charmed as only he can do, with a voice that is at once smooth, strong, and consummately controlled, and a range that astonishes.
Dan Domenech: Bootleg Famous provided an enthralling evening of entertainment, and one that deserves to be seen by more audiences in New York (Birdland Jazz Club, The Green Room 42, or additional dates at Feinstein’s/54 Below?) and around the country. We can only hope that it will return; I’ll be there, and so should you!
Running Time: Approximately 80 minutes, without intermission.
Dan Domenech: Bootleg Famous played on Sunday, January 13, at Feinstein’s/54 Below – 254 West 54th Street, NYC.