by Bobby Goudie.
Brian d’Arcy James is a renowned leading man on Broadway and has been twice nominated for a Tony Award. His show Under the Influence is making its first International premiere at the 2014 Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Arranged and musically directed by Dan Lipton, the show features renditions of pop favourites, especially from the 1970s and ‘80s, as well as some of James’ favourite songs he has sung on the Broadway stage. Even if you haven’t been to New York, you may have heard James on numerous musical recordings or seen him on the NBC television musical series, SMASH, as the husband of Debra Messing.
The Clothesline had the opportunity of speaking with James via email and began by asking what Adelaide Cabaret Festival audiences could expect from Under The Influence?
“Well, the show is really inspired by my love of pop music; songs and songwriters that had an influence on me from listening to the radio in my earlier days. To represent my professional life in the theatre, I try to include songs that have that pop feel that exist on Broadway as well.”
You’ve played the leading man in Broadway productions of Next To Normal, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Shrek The Musical and Titanic, so songs from those shows will definitely be represented, but how did you go about choosing other songs for this show?
“It’s all about the songs that I really love; the sound of them and the way they make me feel. But sometimes not every song that you like translates successfully in a setting like a small concert house. I’ve had some chances to try some out- find out which songs work, which don’t. I think there’s a nice combination of pop songs that people will recogniseand then the Broadway songs that represent that part of me as well.”
What repertoire can we expect to hear apart from musical theatre?
“You’ll hear tunes from artists like Squeeze, Stevie Wonder, Genesis, Billy Joel and Sting to name a few…”
Although it may be similar to choosing your favourite child, can you pick one role that you have played in your career that stands out from all the rest?
“I think the one that really stands out is Shrek, if only for what was required physically and with the make-up. I’ve never had such an experience in the theatre, and I doubt it will be matched.”
In 2010, you sang in front of American President Barack Obama as part of a special Broadway celebration at The White House. How were your nerves on that night?
“They were pretty high actually. We all got some good advice from the producer of that show; make eye contact with the President and the First Lady (who are sitting four feet from you in the first row) straight away! That way, you’ll be reminded that you are, in fact, performing for the President and it won’t sneak up on you during the performance. That was really helpful advice!”
What was it like being part of the NBC television musical series SMASH?
“SMASH was a fantastic experience. An amazing cast of actors, and getting to spend a great deal of time with my TV wife Debra Messing was a lot of fun. Also, the idea of shooting a network TV show in my backyard of New York City, about a subject matter (Broadway) that is near and dear to me, was the perfect storm of a great experience.”
In SMASH you played Frank, the husband of Debra Messing’s character, what is Debra like to work with?
“She’s very friendly, funny and charming. She’s also an excellent actor. I learned a great deal about the how of working on a TV set. I’d had many experiences doing guests spots in shows and films, but never the steady, repetitious luxury of being a ‘regular’ on a TV show. Getting to watch Debra’s work ethic, her positive attitude along with her preparation and skill was a great education.”
What are you working on at the moment?
“I’ve done a handful of small parts in some cool films and TV shows in the past half year. I’m writing a screenplay with a couple of my writing partners and I’m also working to dip my toes in the producing world by pursuing the rights to a property I think will be an amazing Broadway musical. There will be more to come on that as things progress!”
Have you been to Australia before?
“No I haven’t. I have a dear friend, Michael O’Donnell, who is the resident director for The Lion King in Sydney, so when I’m not in Adelaide, my family and I will be in Sydney with Michael and his family!”
What advice would you give to the young people of Adelaide wanting to make a career in musical theatre?
“Always do what you love. That doesn’t always mean things will come easily, so it’s important to be persistent and patient.”
Under the Influence makes its Australian premiere at the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Where will you be taking the show next?
“It’s looking like I’ll have another engagement back in NYC with the show, but I’m still crossing t’s and dotting i’s. It’s going to be hard topping my first international premiere in Australia though!”
Brian d’Arcy James performs Under the Influence at Dunstan Playhouse at various times from Wed Jun 18 until Thu Jun 19.