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Review: “The Man in My Head”

September 29th, 2006

 

by Rob Kendt

 

As a solo show, The Man in My Head is the sort of rambling, maudlin memoir in which the life lessons come at us like freeway signs: Awkward Confrontation, Next Exit; Fulsome Affirmation, Two Smiles Ahead. But taken as a funky, sexy concert/cabaret for performer Darius de Haas, whose infinitely variegated vocal stylings are backed by a crackling four-piece combo, Man in My Head is nearly a tour de force. Michael Wartofsky’s almost non-stop score is a percolating delight; lapidary in its complications but bursting with lyricism (though with merely serviceable lyrics), Wartofsky’s music affords de Haas the chance to mold and stretch the sound of his voice like a sculptor. And in his hands the show assumes a pleasing, soft-focus form.

 

De Haas plays Drew, a weak-willed young law student from the Midwest so seduced by the New York hustle that he strikes up his first big affair with a monied lawyer he meets on the subway. Anyone sniff trouble ahead? The man in question, Jake, has an uptown brownstone and a feisty fiancé named Serena; he only meets boy-toy Drew for “afternoon delight” on the “downlow.” But poor Drew has fallen hard. Again: Any red flags here? This is the kind of maddening narrative that puts us at least three steps ahead of the lead character’s bad choices, and the show’s thick ballad tempos only give us more time to wish he’d wake up and wise up. Still, they sound unerringly lovely.

 

When a better choice inevitably comes Drew’s way, it’s in the impossibly saintly picture of Jamal, a dreadlocked vegan whose hypnotic, near-Tantric approach to nookie leads into the scorching, sinuous “Your Body.” That showstopper feels like the show’s, er, climax, but of course Drew has much more to learn—from flashbacks to his sage Granny, from his swishy friend Teddy, even from his baffled nephew Jonah. Oh, and also from the “man in his head,” a.k.a. “the voice inside,” an unattainable ideal that could be either the lover of his dreams or his own self-image. Happiness comes—possible spoiler alert here—when Drew merges these two alternatives and learns to love himself.

 

Thomas F. Defrantz’s libretto moves from song set-up to set-up with reasonable deftness, given the show’s intrinsically plodding pace of exposition and revelation. Schele Williams’ direction is as smooth as de Haas’ performance. Indeed, de Haas is such a magnetic marvel standing on the platform of Wartofsky’s endlessly inventive score that we can easily see him as much more than The Man in My Head.

 

The Man in My Head

Book by Thomas F. DeFrantz

Lyrics and music by Michael Wartofsky

Directed by Schele Williams

45th St. Theatre