Roberto Araujo: “I Just Wanted You To Know”
When Roberto Araujo came out to his family he was thrown out of the house and fled Mexico City to pursue his dreams in New York City. After a rough and sometimes homeless start while still a teenager, he eventually began working in theatre and, over time, added media, writing, and photography to his resume. With I Just Wanted You To Know, his joyous new show at Green Room 42, he has added first-rate cabaret performer as well. He assembled a terrific band for the show—Dave D’aranjo on electric and acoustic bass, Saul Cosme on guitar, Simon Fishburn on drums, Kurt Marcum on trumpet, and music director Yasuhiko Fukuoka on piano. Fukuoka’s full-blooded, exciting, evocative arrangements were a particular treat throughout the night, equally impressive on pop, Latin, Broadway, and standards. Working with director Mónica Huarte (with musical staging by Jason Wise), Araujo presented his take on the tried and true “this is my story of how I got to this stage tonight” show, but managed to personalize and universalize it by shaping the act around four existential questions: Who am I? What do people think you are? When did you find the essence of what you are? What did you leave behind?
Via video projected at various times during the show, he presented the questions, in people-on-the-street style, to a half-dozen friends who returned in each video to answer them. It was not only effective, but it was an unspoken nod to the media side of his career; they were a funny, touching addition to the proceedings. In her very own Hitchcock cameo, Huarte was one of the interviewees. After hearing their responses, the singer answered the questions in word and, primarily, in song. This simple structure worked surprisingly well.
“Here I Am” (David Yazbek, from Dirty, Rotten Scoundrels) and Steven Lutvak’s “I Just Wanted You to Know” were a one-two punch to enthusiastically open the show. His easy, conversational phrasing, combined with a sure, strong, expressive voice, and his obvious delight at being on stage, left everyone eager for the rest of the show and looking forward to discovering what other great material was still to come. In answer to the first question, the band led Araujo into a sizzling “A Lot of Livin’ To Do,” (Charles Strouse, Lee Adams, from Bye, Bye Birdie), complete with some classic nightclub dance moves, recalling Sammy Davis Jr, and other stars.
Revealing that he had sung the lead in the Spanish version of the animated film, Joseph, King of Dreams, Araujo did full justice to John Bucchino’s song from its score, “Better Than I” (sung originally in English by Aussie cabaret star David Campbell). It is a great song that should be more well-known, and thanks to his beautiful, touching cover, it hopefully will be. After the song, there was a touching story about how, having met Campbell at the afterparty for his Café Carlyle show, he got to sing a duet with him on the song; he beamed with pride as a photo of the two singers dueting was projected onto the screen.
Touching on the unfortunate and widespread prejudice in casting (and the world at large), he addressed it in a personal, insightful song that he wrote. The thought-provoking rumination hinted at in its title, “Do You Dream in Spanish?” comes to full fruition in his beautifully crafted lyrics. Using the talk of auditions and casting as a springboard, he then leapt into an exciting medley of the dream roles he wished and hoped to play. His terrific performances of well-chosen numbers from Aida, Company, Evita, Falsettos, and The Last Five Years proved that his rise to stardom has only been delayed by the vagaries of society. Even in their shortened versions, he made each choice a triumph, phrased to perfection.
Then came the one wrong move of the evening—the inclusion of another showtune, “Island” (David Yazbek, from Woman on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) to follow the medley. At its best a problematic song, it strives to be an edgy dissection of a failed love affair but it fails on every level. An awkward, halting interpretation did nothing to change that opinion.
Happily, the show went right back on its well-structured track with a song from 1939, “Are You Having Any Fun?” (Sammy Fain, Jack Yellen, from George White’s Scandals) that allowed the singer to radiate positivity once again, as his band engaged in a bit of traditional call and response with him. Staying with the Great American Songbook, he then turned to Irving Berlin for a delightful “Let Me Sing and I’m Happy,” smartly paired with “I Won’t Dance” (Jerome Kern, Dorothy Fields, Jimmy McHugh) cementing his affinity for standards delivered with new and distinct energy and perspective.
Returning to his family and their inability to accept him for who he was, he confessed that while they couldn’t deal with having a gay theatre kid for a son, they did recognize his talent when he wasn’t singing showtunes. His voice at its most rich and strong, he presented a medley of Juan Gabriel songs in their original Spanish that was a passionate, mesmerizing high point of the set. He gloried in the dramatic excesses of the material and pulled it off without a hint of camp. In their discouraging reaction, his family actually gave him the impetus to make the journey to New York. There was a beautifully curated slide show of photos to accompany the lovely verbal, poetic images he conjured on stage with Jason Robert Brown’s “The World Inside a Frame.”
At the show’s finale, Araujo brought his two worlds together with Jerry Herman’s “Before the Parade Passes By” (from Hello, Dolly!) with Spanish lyrics by Javier Vilalta. Regardless of the language, the song presented the singer’s passion, dreams, fears, and determination in an unforgettable way. Before his encore, he declared that his show was in memory of Steven Lutvak, whose sudden passing earlier this year shocked the theatre and cabaret community. The singer’s feeling and sense of loss informed a luminous interpretation of Lutvak’s “The House I Grew Up In,” made even more emotional for an audience still touched by his family stories. Roberto Araujo’s I Just Wanted You To Know did, indeed, let us know about his talent, his charm, his intelligence, his wit, and his heart. I can’t wait to see what else he has to tell us.
Presented at Green Room 42, 570 Tenth Ave., NYC, November 18, 2023.
About the Author
Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”