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Lessons in Love from Jason Danieley

by Brian Kellow

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Jason Danieley in his cabaret show, “Romantic Notions," at Feinstein’s/54 Below
Courtesy of Feinstein’s/54 Below

"THE GREATEST THING you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” That final line of eden ahbez’s 1940s hit “Nature Boy,” provided the road map for Jason Danieley’s new cabaret show, “Romantic Notions,” which recently played at Manhattan’s popular night spot Feinstein’s/54 Below. It’s an uncommonly moving club act. 

The show has a very personal focus: it’s a kind of extended love letter to his wife of nearly eighteen years, the stunning Broadway musical star Marin Mazzie, who a few months ago was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Danieley spoke of the challenges of the couple’s past several months with admirable spirit and grace, and not a trace of self-pity. Mazzie and Danieley are a highly respected couple in the Broadway world, and I’m certain that most people in the room were to some degree aware of their struggle. Danieley assured the audience that Mazzie’s prognosis is promising. But what struck me most about the evening was how well the show would hang together even without the painful subtext.

Danieley possesses enormous charm and vitality onstage; he comes across as one of those nice boys who enjoys teasing out his devilish streak; there’s always a glint in his eye, even when he’s at his most winningly warm. (This combination of qualities made him perfect casting as Johnny Nolan in Encores!’ presentation of Arthur Schwartz and Dorothy Fields’ A Tree Grows in Brooklyn a decade ago.) He spoke of his early quest for love as a kind of driving obsession, and here he was extremely moving in Marc Blitzstein’s “I Wish It So,” even when the arrangement seemed at times to work against him. His voice had a thrilling freedom on some of the rock numbers like the Beatles’ “Something,” and his boyish ardor enlivened a middling number like “I Am Loved” from Cole Porter’s 1950 Broadway show Out of This World

The lower part of Danieley’s voice is marked by a distinctively quick vibrato, something he often eschews when he reaches the upper range. And it’s the top of his voice, deployed with thrilling fearlessness, that explains why he’s become a treasured musical-theater star. The emotional high point of the show came near the end with his intensely personal rendition of Kismet’s “And This is My Beloved.” Yet his Vegas-y take on the pop classic “For Once in My Life” was, oddly, almost equally moving—because it was loaded with the emotional truth that marks so much of Danieley’s work. His trio was composed of drummer Clint DeGanon, bassist Pete Donovan, and pianist Tedd Firth, whose power and articulation at the keyboard are second to none. —Brian Kellow

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