Over the past 20 years, Brian d’Arcy James has kept Broadway audiences on their toes with diverse roles in dramas (Time Stands Still, The Lieutenant of Inishmore), musicals (Shrek, Next to Normal, Titanic) and now Shakespeare (Macbeth). But before he takes the stage at Lincoln Center Theater as Banquo alongside Ethan Hawke, d'Arcy James is heading back underground at 54 Below for an encore engagement of his acclaimed show Under the Influence, running September 5-7. Broadway.com caught up with the two-time Tony nominee get the scoop on his concert, to find out, his work with Diane Paulus on Finding Neverland and having his Shrek performance preserved on film.
You’re about to begin your encore engagement of Under the Influence at 54 Below. What do you love about performing this show?
It’s music that I love, first and foremost. It’s stuff that’s in my DNA and has been a part of me since growing up and listening to the radio in high school—which is what you did in the olden days [laughs]. I gravitated toward Elton John. Billy Joel, Steve Winwood, Squeeze and artists like that; that’s how I cut my teeth musically. So if I wasn’t listening to a Broadway cast album, the other 98 percent of the time I was listening to my hometown pop radio station.
So, you're taking fans back to their teenage years, rocking out to cassette tapes in the car.
I did hear a lot of that. These are songs that, if you were around to hear them originally, really put a timestamp emotionally and geographically. I have such specific images of all those songs and where they take me. I think that’s what’s potent about it.
Are audiences surprised not to hear musical theater songs in your show?
These days, the line between theatrical music and pop music is blurred, and I think that’s a great thing. There’s a nice crossover in terms of the sound that is on Broadway, so maybe that absolves me of my sins a little bit!
Do you have a favorite moment in the show?
There’s a beautiful song that I heard at a Rufus Wainwright concert written by Kate McGarrigle, who is Rufus’ mother, called “Saratoga Summer Song.” It’s a wistful, sentimental look back on how summer can be a magical time and just as soon as it comes, it goes away. It’s a perfect Labor Day song because everyone is looking back with a little sadness that summer is over. I just love singing it.
How does it feel for you to have your Shrek performance preserved on film, as well as the new double disc Giant cast recording? Does it make these experiences richer to have them live on?
Absolutely! Especially with Shrek—I’m so happy my daughter can see it now. She’s going to be able to appreciate the show in a completely different way than when she was in second grade, which was when I did it. Shrek was such a monumental mountain climb for me, in terms of what was required, and the fact that I can sit back on my couch and drink a beer while watching it makes me so happy. I’m dying to see it.
I need to hear about Finding Neverland. What was working with Diane Paulus like on the reading?
It was great. She’s extraordinary. I had never worked with her and these 29-hour readings are interesting, to say the least, because you have so much to accomplish. It’s interesting to hear her talk about where you are now, in terms of putting something together, and know that she will fulfill her vision in maybe 30 hours [laughs].
Is Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie a part you’d like to continue with? Any chance you’ll be part of the A.R.T. run?
I would love to continue doing it; I don’t know where they are in terms of the evolution of it and what they’re considering. There’s a ton to be excited and hopeful about. Maybe just by virtue of having done it, my hat is in the ring? I sure hope so. It’s an interesting character and the music is really beautiful, and I’m a father so I love the idea of being in a show that has a big, big family heart.
We've heard that you are in the new TV remake of Ironside. Who are you playing?
I’m in the pilot only, and I’m the requisite bad guy. I play a hedge fund manager who is definitely up to some dubious activities. It’s up to Blair Underwood [in the title role] to shake me down a little bit.
Check out Brian d’Arcy James in Under the Influence at 54 Below September 5 through 7.