Bootleg Famous

Review: Dan Domenech’s ‘Bootleg Famous: To Broadway and Beyond’ at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival

by Deb Miller

New York’s Dan Domenech, who wowed audiences last summer as Che in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival’s acclaimed production of Evita, was invited back to Center Valley, PA, on July 30, for a special one-night-only world-premiere performance of his one-man cabaret Bootleg Famous: to Broadway and Beyond, and what a night it was! The 90-minute autobiographical musical retrospective of Domenech’s evolving sixteen-year career featured a set list of eighteen of his favorite songs (plus the audience’s fervent request for an encore), spanning his early days in community theater to his roles on and off Broadway, from touring productions to guest appearances on TV and his unexpected fame as an internet sensation (with 24,000,000 – yes, million! – views of a bootleg video of his performance in Heathers: The Musical, posted on YouTube by a devoted follower).

Domenech’s savvy selection of songs and blockbuster vocals, accompanied by Broadway master David Gardos on piano and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, not only traced the trajectory of his life in musical theater, but also highlighted the impressive range of his powerful, smooth, and resonant voice and his command of a variety of musical genres, including Broadway show tunes, rock-and-roll, jazz, and the blues. Expressing the heartfelt emotions he experienced while living through the inevitable ups and downs of show business, the meaningful numbers were interspersed with personal stories, reflections, and recollections that charmed with their natural humor and honesty, and captivated with his characteristic enthusiasm (“I love what I do!”) and innate sensitivity to others (acknowledging his family, idols, teachers, and colleagues, and always appreciating his fans). With his winning smile, irresistible spirit, and exceptional talent, Domenech is not “bootleg famous” without reason.

Alternating between upbeat segments of childlike ebullience (in the hyperactive “I Can’t Stand Still” from Footloose, “Fun” from Big: The Musical, and hitting the big note in “Suppertime” from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown), the growing recognition of the dedication and sacrifice required to make it on the big stage (profoundly relating to the sentiments of Avenue Q’s “Purpose,” Parade’s “Old Red Hills of Home,” Big’s “I Wanna Go Home,” and his seamless medley of Diamonds’ “What You’d Call a Dream” and A New Brain’s “I’d Rather be Sailing”), and the gratifying awareness of achieving success (opening the show with powerhouse renditions of “This Is the Moment” from Jekyll and Hyde and “Sensation” from The Who’s Tommy), Domenech’s enthralling delivery was punctuated by animated movements around the stage, as he kicked up his heels, took to the piano for a few exuberant rounds of “Chopsticks,” waved his jazz hands, and solicited the enthusiastic audience to snap, clap, and sing along with him (not surprisingly, everyone did).

Among the countless highlights of the show were selections from his recent hits: a soaring and ironic “High Flying, Adored” from the PSF’s Evita; a rocking “Ruby” from the current Smokey Joe’s Café; a sardonic “Freeze Your Brain” from Heathers; and a hauntingly beautiful “Every Rose” from Rock of Ages. Domenech concluded the terrific evening with an encore of Billy Joel’s bluesy “New York State of Mind,” paying homage to his city.

If you missed the sensational out-of-town debut of Bootleg Famous at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, you can catch Dan Domenech back in Manhattan in Smokey Joes Cafe, when he takes the stage as a standby for Max Sangerman, August 2-4, at Stage 42. And we can all hope that he’ll soon bring his smashing cabaret act to a venue in New York!

Daniel Domenech