Dave D’aranjo: Open This Pit Up!

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Dave D’aranjo

Open This Pit Up!

Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, July 5, 2019

Reviewed by Chris Struck for Cabaret Scenes

Dave d’aranjo

I’ve seen quite a few showcases over the past years; it’s one of the most common forms of cabaret. From Sondheim nights to 54 Sings Jane Eyre, many of them deserve praise for accomplishing the task of storytelling combined with an adequate performance of standards and/or originals. However, a few of these shows rise above that level.

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One that immediately comes to mind is 54 Sings Elton John, which provided incredible vocals along outstanding of outfits. Add Dave D’aranjo’s (pictured) “party” celebrating his 35th birthday to that top tier of these stalwart performances. The ensemble of stellar actors and actresses was extraordinary; as individuals, their consistency and unique performances should serve to enhance their solid reputations.

On a night dedicated to pit orchestra musicians (the “pit” in the title), it was most definitely the singers they supported who demanded the spotlight. However, it would be remiss not to mention the band first: Bálint Varga (piano), James Rushin and Lena Gabrielle (switching on and off on keyboard), David Mayers and Claudio Rainò (guitar), David D’aranjo (bass guitar), and Ismael Baiz and Elena Bonomo (switching from song to song on drum set and percussion). This large band meshed well and appeared to have an inherent chemistry that made their music work. Their strength as a band enabled their cool melodies and exquisite harmonies to support the stand-out vocals of a killer cast.

Jake McKenna, Kristin Dausch, Beda Spindola, and Julian Diaz-Granados were my favorite performers of the evening. McKenna coordinated the festivities as emcee and kept things moving along.

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His ease of manner and well-timed comments on the performances made him worth watching just for that, but his performance of “The Origin of Love” (Stephen Trask) from Hedwig and the Angry Inch (with flashing lights indicated lightning) was an example of the enormous talent level that D’aranjo brought together. Perhaps even better were Dausch’s performance of “Just One Step” (Jason Robert Brown) from Songs for a New World, Spindola’s thrilling “Easy to Be Hard” (Galt MacDermot/James Rado/Gerome Ragni) from Hair, or Diaz-Granados’s outrageously good performance of “Heaven on Their Minds” (Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice) from Jesus Christ Superstar, not to mention his believable King George in “You’ll be Back” (Lin-Manuel Miranda) from Hamilton.

Diaz-Granados joined Morgan Reilly (who is usually known for her own originals) for a song from a developing musical, Medusa, but Reilly is usually known for her well-constructed original music. Her performance of “So Much Better” (Nell Benjamin/Laurence O’Keefe) from Legally Blonde deserves high praise. She showed off her unique vocals while turning in a well-acted version of a contemporary theater song.

When she sang, “Seeing my name up on that list/that beats the first time that we kissed,” she adroitly captured the sentiment of moving on from relationship disappointment to succeed in achieving her goals.

Tyla Collier, Terrell Foster-James, and Georgia Sackler also turned in strong moments. Collier was outstanding on “Ain’t Nothing but a Kiss” (David Bryan/Joe DiPietro) from Memphis; she delivered on the song’s tantalizing underlying premise by smoothly singing, “A simple little kiss/all lipstick and desire.” Sackler’s “The Sea” (Rachel Dean/Wes Braver) from Medusa, was one of my favorites of the night. The longing and depth that she displayed was deeply touching. The duo of McKenna and Dausch brought the show to a close with a high-octane performance, complete with dancing, of “The Time Warp” (Richard O’Brien/Richard Hartley) from The Rocky Horror Show.

Chris Struck

Chris Struck's debut novel, Kennig and Gold, is due to be officially published in June 2019. He's written reviews for Cabaret Scenes since August of 2017. For more information about the writer, see StruckChris.com