Darius de Haas: A Leonard Bernstein Thing

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Darius de Haas

A Leonard Bernstein Thing

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NC, April 27, 2018    

Reviewed by Alix Cohen for Cabaret Scenes 

Darius de Haas

Darius de Haas discovered Leonard Bernstein at age 7 through the composer’s iconic West Side Story. At 17, he performed “Simple Song” from Mass “with no idea what I was singing.” In college, a favorite showcase number was “Maria.” The young man’s heroes were Bernstein, Bob Fosse, and Alvin Ailey, all of whom had passed by the time he got to New York. Iconoclastic approach to material bears distinctive signs of these influences, however.

MD/pianist Tedd Firth’s wrenchingly soulful “Somewhere” (lyric Stephen Sondheim) eases into a hypnotic waltz by the time de Haas comes in mid phrase with an already soaring “…someday….”  “New York, New York” (On the Town; lyrics: Betty Comden/Adolph Green) emerges pelvis first, in a staccato, finger-snapping, Fosse-ready arrangement coupled with a Latin-shaded “Something’s Coming” (Sondheim). The performer seems immersed, looking over our heads with anticipation.

“Here’s a little bit of a different take on what I call ‘the wedding song.'” In fact, “One Hand, One Heart” (Sondheim) is extremely original. Borne on rolling waves of piano music, the cottony vocal is less concerned with message than evocative, overall effect which here, is emphatic. The same is true for two solemn numbers from Mass.

An exaggeratedly theatrical “Carried Away” (Comden & Green) starts with scat and segues to back-alley jazz. Eyes closed, the performer leans in, bends over, bounces, gestures. Watch his chin while emitting notes that twice circle the room. “Yep, all true.” This works as pastiche.

Here’s the rub: de Haas is so concerned with showing off admirable vocal skill, lyrics are irrelevant. Songs rife with personal emotion are homogenized. The best part of splendid ballads “Lonely Town” and “Lucky to Be Me” (both Comden & Green) are Firth’s tender piano. I don’t believe a word of “I Can Cook Too,” which sheds both comedy and pathos in favor of mugging, or of “It Must Be So” (Candide; lyrics: Richard Wilbur) which sounds good, but lands without meaning.

Additionally, the artist NEVER looks at anyone. He’s so self-contained, an audience is completely shut out. “Pretty Girl” (Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn) ignores prime opportunity to gaze in women’s eyes and connect. It’s partnered “Maria” at least has the excuse of pleasure and excitement. When theater actors take to a cabaret stage, they must learn to breach the fourth wall and communicate with an audience eye to eye. This is an intimate art. The talented ones even adjust and respond.

Until these two issues are addressed, all that’s happening onstage (besides extensive ad-libbed exposition) is appealing sound.

Alix Cohen

Alix Cohen’s writing began with poetry, segued into lyrics then took a commercial detour. She now authors pieces about culture/the arts, including reviews and features. A diehard proponent of cabaret, she’s also a theater aficionado, a voting member of Drama Desk, The Drama League and of The NY Press Club in addition to MAC. Currently, Alix writes for Cabaret Scenes, Theater Pizzazz and Woman Around Town. Additional pieces have been published by The New York Post, The National Observer’s Playground Magazine, Pasadena Magazine and Times Square Chronicles. Alix is the recipient of six New York Press Club Awards.