Club Review: David LaMarr and Darnell White, “Fully Vaccinated”

July 12, 2021 | By

Fully Vaccinated tackles all the themes of the pandemic with original music (with one exception) by Darnell White, who is also the pianist, a singer, and one half of the romantic and musical duo that makes up David LaMarr and Darnell White. White is a talented player, moving from jazz to pop and theatrical easily, and he is also a soulful singer. David LaMarr is a very funny guy, and also an adept and expressive singer.

This was a tough show to review because I absolutely loved it and yet I saw its faults as a “cabaret act.” It was the second show I attended in a six-day period that had a pandemic theme, and I honestly thought I would never want to hear any pandemic material when we emerged, but it was interesting to see how differently talented people treated the subject. 

David LaMarr and Darnell White  (Photo: Apollo Fields)

The duo opens with LaMarr in full hazmat suit armed with disinfectant, which he uses while roaming the stage from mic to piano, disinfecting keys, mic stand, and various other things, while White sings and plays the eerie and rhythmic “Coronavirus,” a song which enumerates every fear many of us had when the looming pandemic became a reality. “Will it kill me, how sick will I get, what will it do to me?,” LaMarr squeaks out retorts to these questions behind his face shield, and the whole scene, including reliving the questions that ran through my head constantly in the spring and summer of 2020, was dark and bizarre and very, very funny. That is one of my favorite combinations.

The song, “Fully Vaccinated“—an upbeat blues—follows, during which LaMarr interjects “we used a rhyming dictionary.” His timing is really on.  Songs about the experience of being quarantined give way to a more hopeful group of songs about emerging from it (and that’s not to say the quarantine songs were not entertaining). Not every composition in the set was fully realized.

Another song “Butterfly,” and really the entire show, is about transformation, and LaMarr’s exposition is about his fear of being himself, a boy who likes pretty things and high heels. His relationship with White is obviously a safe space for him to explore feelings and desires he’s had trouble voicing in the past. The show ends with a group of altered TV theme songs, a nod to an activity they enjoyed as a couple during the pandemic. This felt like an add-on to the show which would have been much shorter with only the eleven songs that precede it.  

The thing about Fully Vaccinated that may not be to everyone’s taste is the same thing that makes it kind of stunning: The unbelievable intimacy and vulnerability that two Black men bring to the stage in revealing not only their romantic relationship, but mental health issues, extreme fear of intimacy, fear of being oneself. I know these are not typically subjects that men put out in public for scrutiny—and call it entertainment—and I read enough to know it’s not highly encouraged among African-American men.

I’ve never seen these talents perform before, together or separately. This was an intensely personal performance with intimate details of the couple’s romance and relationship, not to mention what seemed like an agonizing journey for LaMarr to get to the point of allowing White to literally care for him. 

As a singular experience reflective of LaMarr and White’s personal time in our collective hell, with clever and entertaining songs and bits, it was an hour well spent. This is not a polished laugh-a-minute evening for everyone, but it was an experience I’m glad I had.

Presented at Don’t Tell Mama on June 24 and 28.

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

Though now Betsyann Faiella is known in New York primarily as a publicist, she came to that profession from two previous careers that contributed to her love of promoting creative people: as a working singer and as a media producer. She made her cabaret debut at the legendary Reno Sweeney. She was the lead singer in a band with Lewis Friedman, the impresario of both Reno Sweeney and s.n.a.f.u. Later she performed in such other iconic venues as Birdland, Blue Note, the Jazz Bakery in Los Angeles, and Ronnie Scott's in London. She appeared in concert with jazz legends Hank Jones and Paul Smith and performed at arts centers and universities around the country.

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