Published June 10, 2023
by Gerry Geddes
Hard as it may be to believe, I do not spend all my time going to/writing about/directingcabaret. In my spare time, I am a horror film fan as well. In 2022, I saw a terrific little indie film called They/Them (if the title is said aloud, it is “They Slash Them”). It was, as that title indicates, a take on the slasher film but with a gay spin by setting it in a conversion camp. The big-name star of the piece was Kevin Bacon but the movie, for me at least, was stolen by a newcomer in the finest tradition of Hollywood thievery. Playing a non-binary potential victim, Darwin Del Fabro gave a star-making performance. So, when I saw that he was presenting a tribute to one of my favorite composers at 54 Below, Antônio Carlos Jobim, I jumped at the chance to attend.
Revisiting Jobim was an introduction to the singing talent of the young Brazilian actor, and a re-introduction to some of Jobim’s most iconic songs through the prism of Del Fabro’s distinct vocals, naturally dramatic phrasing, and musical invention. In song after song, he had me finding shadings and meanings in the lyrics that I hadn’t heard before. Some of his arrangements were far from traditional Bossa rhythms, even approaching hard-core metal at times, and sensitive, singer-songwriter folk at others. The singer’s multi-octave voice and acting talent were on full display, bending the songs to his own narrative, but always respecting their pedigree. Most of the show was sung in English translation to make the material more accessible. The exciting and innovative arrangements by music director and pianist Phil Hall were brought to vibrant life by Rebecca Cherry on violin, Adrian Daurov on cello, and Keith Crupi on drums and percussion, and gave the singer a solid base for his adventurous choices.
Introduced in winning, self-effacing patter filled with personal information and facts about the composer, song after song was a revelation and Del Fabro’s delight in performing them was infectious. His opener, the classic “Wave” (lyric by Jobim), began with a haunting a cappella verse leading into a swell of music from the strings, and then the other musicians that swept over the audience. I gladly succumbed to the literal waves of music. Then came “Desafinado/Off Key” (lyrics by Jon Hendricks and Jesse Cavanaugh) that solidified the singer’s investment in the material, determined to honor it but in no way bowing to its traditional performance. It restored a vitality to the lyrics that was as refreshing as it was audacious. In “One Note Samba” (Lyrics by Jon Hendricks), his supple voice cascaded over the music, often punctuated by raw and rough growls that ultimately became a duet with the drums. His “Corcovado/Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars” (lyrics by Gene Lees) was filled with sonorous low notes that leapt to ethereal heights, all in service to the story and the melody. His energy burst through the expected gentility of “Agua de Beber/Water to Drink” (lyrics by Norman Gimbel) with loud, rock & roll fervor.
Reminding, or revealing to, the audience that “Dindi” (lyrics by Ray Gilbert) was a location and not a person, his interpretation was a stunning evocation of place and of memory. Declaring his love for the 1967 album Francis Albert Sinatra and Antonio Carlos Jobim (a love I share), Del Fabro delighted with “How Insensitive” (lyrics by Norman Gimbel) done as an insinuating tango, melding into a Jobim that Sinatra never recorded, “All That’s Left is to Say Goodbye” (lyrics by Ray Gilbert) from 1965’s The Astrud Gilberto Album. In a touching moment, the one non-Jobim song of the evening was done in honor of his father, who had flown in from Brazil for the occasion. It was the first samba that a young Del Fabro had heard—“Naquela Mesa” written by Sergio Bittencourt. An exhilarating and riveting “Waters of March” (lyrics by Jobim) followed, and the singer passed this test of any Jobim tribute with ease and grace. The other warhorse of the night, “The Girl from Ipanema” (lyrics by Norman Gimbel) entered the 21st century with a drive and intensity surprising for a “girl” of her age.
The joy that had been bubbling up all evening finally exploded in the closer, “No More Blues” (lyrics by Jon Hendricks and Jesse Cavanaugh). It capped a daring and altogether triumphant introduction to a bright new talent on the New York cabaret scene. Darwin Del Fabro is one to watch!