James Naughton's acting has brought him acclaim. But it's his one-man show, "Street of Dreams," that has made him a rising star.
His Life is a Cabaret
"Street of Dreams"
University of Richmond
Alice Jepson Theatre
289-8980 after 3 p.m.
It's James Naughton's voice you remember. It's not that his face and form are unattractive. In fact, with his striking salt-and-pepper hair, rugged good looks, and lean build, you would have to call the Tony Award-winning actor handsome. But it's his silky-smooth, rich and sultry baritone voice that sneaks into your subconscious, making you feel warm and comfortable, even on a chilly autumn day.
Richmond will soon have the opportunity to hear Naughton's voice in all its glory when he brings his one-man cabaret-style show, "Street of Dreams," to University of Richmond's Jepson Theatre on Oct. 6. Billed as "an evening of music that's pure theater," the show features Naughton performing a remarkable range of songs, from Elvis Presley's "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" to Bing Crosby's "Pennies from Heaven" to offbeat novelty numbers written by Randy Newman. Between songs, Naughton regales audiences with personal anecdotes from his 30 years on Broadway and in television and film.
"These are songs we sang in the car when I was a kid," says Naughton, who is now in his mid-50s. "There is a personal reason for every song being in the show. I've thought about doing this for 25 years. Nobody knew that I could sing like this. Sometimes the cast of one of the plays I was in would do a late-night cabaret, just for us, and I'd perform. My agent kept telling me I should do a show of my own."
But Naughton was busy with a burgeoning stage and film career. The actor hit the theater scene running in 1970, winning a New York Drama Critics awards for his debut performance in "Long Day's Journey Into Night." Though he has worked consistently since, the '90s have been especially good for Naughton. He won a Tony in 1990 for his performance in "City of Angels" and another in 1997 for the revival of "Chicago." All the while, the urge to go solo simmered in the background.
Finally, last year, friends introduced him to Rosemary Clooney's musical director, John Oddo. "It was like a blind date," recalls Naughton, neither man really sure what would come of the meeting. The rapport was instantaneous, however, and within three months, Naughton was doing a solo act in Manhattan, backed by Oddo and a five-piece band.
Since then, he says, "it's just taken off. We are having trouble keeping up with all the bookings we are getting." Reviews have been consistently laudatory. The New York Daily News gushed, "the suave performer all but redefines what it means to be smooth." According to Newsday, "[i]f James Naughton isn't the epitome of cool, no one is." His biggest gig to date was this summer at the Hollywood Bowl where he performed with a 100-piece orchestra for a crowd of 17,000.
Asked whether he's excited about the show's popularity, Naughton responds that the biggest reward has been an artistic one. "It's satisfying that I created this thing, that it's really mine. Acting is such an interpretive art; most of the time [actors] are cogs in a big wheel. To have created this, written and presented it, that's what's exciting." He adds, "This is not heavy lifting for me. It's fun. As long as I take care of my voice, I can do this show every night."
But Naughton's schedule is a bit too crammed for an extended "Street of Dreams" tour. He recently spent a couple of weeks in Los Angeles filming a two-episode arc for the Fox television show, "Ally McBeal." According to network publicists, the first installment including Naughton will air on Nov. 15, and depending on how the storyline develops, his part may grow into a continuing role.
The actor also starts rehearsals this month for a new off-Broadway play called "Y2K." Naughton has been branching out into directing as well, and his production of Arthur Miller's "The Price" will open on Broadway in November. How does he fit it all in? "I'm dancing as fast as I can," he replies.
But when Naughton says it, with that supple, low-slung voice, he conveys not even a twinge of stress or anxiety. He may say he's dancing, but it sounds more like he's sauntering, unconcerned, down his ongoing street of