The breeze is warm on our faces, and the grass is greening in the early spring sun: it's the kind of morning Jack Donahue might sing about. "Don't you love this weather?" Donahue says to me as we sit on a bench near the Rotunda. "I had forgotten how beautiful it is here. The sycamore trees are unbelievable."
Donahue, who wowed Charlottesville in the early ‘90s by starring in many song-and-dance shows at UVA and Live Arts, is wrapping up an academic year as a guest lecturer in the UVA drama department.
Esteemed critic Rex Reed, writing in the The New York Observer, calls him "handsome and personable,” noting, “with his musical pores wide open, there is a strong indication that Mr. Donahue is going places fast." Fortunately, he has stopped in Charlottesville on his way.
He’s also recently released his first compact disc, Lighthouse. With quiet, reflective lyrics and understated accompaniment that invite one to listen carefully, Lighthouse, he says, is "a mood piece” inspired by Jimmy Webb's CD, Ten Easy Pieces.
"I remember listening to Webb's album and thinking I could just sit and contemplate the countryside and the earth," Donahue says.
Donahue has known he could sing since his elementary school days. In choir class at St. Joseph's School in Massachusetts, the teacher asked who would be interested in performing a solo. Donahue's sister held his hand up for him. "She, of course, remembers me holding hers down," he quips.
Since that early experience, Donahue has dreamed of some day having a record deal.
A few years after he received his M.F.A. in acting from UVA in 1993, he left Charlottesville to pursue an acting career in New York. Since then, Donahue has become one of the stars of the Big Apple’s cabaret scene. He won the Backstage Bistro Award for "Outstanding Vocalist" in 1999 and was nominated for "Best Performer" by the Manhattan Association of Clubs and Cabarets the same year.
"To get started, I would send a club my press packet and try to set up an arrangement," he explains. That strategy apparently paid off, though when he began appearing in clubs, he says, he didn't even know what a cabaret was.
Donahue brings what he's learned, however, to his role as director of the final show of the season at UVA's Culbreth Theater, Kander and Ebb's musical classic Cabaret. He provides artistic direction and choreography for the cast of 25 actors and singers, who take to the stage April 11-13.
"There is so much energy in rehearsals" he says. "I keep thinking if these guys keep this up, they'll have fine careers." The same might be said of Donahue.