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Zachary James Serves Up a Little Lurch, a Little Honest Abe
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Monday, February 6, 2023
 

STORY AND PHOTOS BY KAREN BOSSICK

Zachary James was tasked with creating the role of Lurch, a tall gloomy butler, in Broadway’s version of “The Addams Family.” And he followed that up with a robotic version of Abraham Lincoln in Disneyland’s Hall of Presidents for Philip Glass’s opera “The Perfect American.”

This past week he was simply asked to pivot from an evening of duets with country/opera star Bonnie Montgomery to fly solo after four days of ice storms in the South prevented Montgomery from flying to Sun Valley from her home in Arkansas.

No pressure.

James simply doubled the number of songs he had planned to sing to 20 as he recounted his journey to becoming a 2022 Grammy Award winner and Broadway Vocalist and Performer of the Decade before a Sun Valley Opera crowd at The Argyros in Ketchum.

“The thing that opera has that’s unique is its high quality, said the opera’s board chair Kyle Johnson. “This is a classically trained music guy who can sing Broadway and opera in a voice unlike anything else.”

James, known for his huge, robust bass, starred in the Metropolitan Opera’s “Akhaten” and “Wozzeck.” But it didn’t happen overnight he told the audience.

He was uncertain about his future, he said, when a teacher told him of auditions for musical theater.

“I said, ‘I don’t sing.’ The teacher said, ‘You can sing Happy Birthday.’ ”

Bitten by the theater bug, the 6-foot-6 singer studied opera in school. But he questioned his choice of professions as he wore holes in his shoes walking from audition to audition in New York before he landed his first role.

“It was hard, but what an incredible journey. You’ve got to hold onto that dream and not let up,” he said, as he broke out into Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons.”

Finally, he landed a role as a bass singer in a choir singing “Messiah” in a Broadway show. The show ran just three weeks. But, by the time it ended, he had obtained his actor’s equity card, which meant he couldn’t be turned away from an audition even if there were a hundred people waiting in line. And the doors began to open, with him landing a role in “South Pacific” at the Lincoln Center

“The Lincoln Center for me is like the crossroads of the universe—there’s no place better. I sang ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ every day for two years and never tired of it,” he said, as he reprised the Rodgers and Hammerstein song.

It was “The Addams Family: The Musical” that took him to the opera stage.

James noted off stage that the role of Lurch was a huge moment in his life, and it ended up taking several years of his life. First, there was two years of development as the Broadway team staged readings and workshops preparing to bring the musical to life.

“I studied cartoons as I thought about how to make Lurch real,” said James. “I played Lurch for a thousand performances. I told myself: It’s your job so be engaged. Keep it fresh.

“It’s not so much singing but about the people,” he added. “Between the time you start rehearsal until  the last performance, the people you’re working with become your family. They become your family instantly because you need to tell the story together.”

Playing a robotic Abraham Lincoln, which he did at London’s English National Opera, Teatro Real in Madrid and Australia’s Opera Queensland, was wonderful, he added: “I learned how progressive he was.’

Marybeth Flower, who was among those in the audience, said she had cultivated a love of opera through her late husband Joe Bauwens.

“Joe was the kind of person who did a deep dive into something if he was interested in it. He taught me how different characters had different voices and how different instruments played along with their singing,” she said.

 Ed McDonnell said he got his first taste of opera when his father was backstage manager at the Boston Opera House.

“I liked to go with him to work. I’d grab a broom and pretend I was busy sweeping the floor while I listened to the rehearsals for opera and Boston Pops,” he said.

James told the audience he was elated to return to Sun Valley to sing for Sun Valley Opera for second time: “I went 19 months without an audience during the pandemic. I’m so grateful to be singing here before a live audience in a beautiful space like this.”

Sun Valley Opera Co-founder Frank Meyer punctuated his sentiments: “It’s so great to have a full house, the kick-off to our 21st season, which is going strong. The crowds have not yet come back in full measure at many places, including The Met.”

COMING UP:

Feb. 17—Hadleigh Adams will perform Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Music of the Night,” “Carmen’s “Toreador Song” and more at The Argyros.

March 23—Ashley Faatoalia and Marina Harris will perform music from Sondheim, Gershwin,  Hammerstein and others at the Sun Valley Opera House

July 14—Soprano Ibidunni Ojikutu will sing at a Signature Salon and Concert at a private home.

Aug. 25—Emmett O’Hanlon and Emmet Cahill will perform solos and duets from such musicals as “South Pacific” and “West Side Story” at The Argyros.

Learn more at https://www.sunvalleyopera.com

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