09/03/2013 12:07 pm ET

Brian d'Arcy James, 'Smash' And Broadway Star, Goes 'Under The Influence' At NYC's 54 Below


New York nightspot 54 Below is set to welcome back one of its inaugural stars when Brian d'Arcy James takes the stage Sept. 5.

Though he's predominately known as a song-and-dance man, the two-time Tony Award nominee ("Sweet Smell of Success," "Shrek the Musical") will mostly eschew showtunes in favor of rock and pop songs for "Under The Influence," an eclectic "hodgepodge" show that he premiered at 54 Below to great acclaim last year, shortly after the club opened.

"I've always said this endeavor was a bit of a selfish one," James, 45, said in an interview with The Huffington Post, noting that the 2013 version of his set will comprises tunes by Billy Joel, Steve Winwood and Squeeze. "Since it was the first time I've really put together an official show of my own, I gravitated towards the music that I grew up listening to, which is predominately a traditional pop sound."

James' renditions of pop-rock tunes earned him raves during his 2012 engagement: The New York Times said the show "sharpened [his] profile as an energetic closet rocker," while TheaterMania's Brian Scott Lipton praised the star's "delicious looseness."

But the actor is most excited to perform the "good old-fashioned country waltz" he co-wrote with longtime musical director Dan Lipton -- it's called "Don't Hold it Against Me," and it was written for James' wife, Jennifer Prescott.

"Any time I get the chance -- and the courage -- to sing one of my own songs, I like that very much," James said.

Check out some of James's best performances below, then scroll down to keep reading:

The Best Of Brian d'Arcy James

He went on to describe the advantages of performing in an intimate cabaret setting as opposed to a large-scale Broadway theater. "You're allowed to be yourself and you're not beholden to a particular character or story," he said. "I like that aspect of not having a mask on; I like that liberty. Every song is a story, of course, but I think just in terms of how I approach this … I like being able to be just as concerned with the sound of a song [as] the story of a song."

He is reluctant to speculate on the reasons behind the recent demise of "Smash," the Broadway-centric NBC series that premiered amid dynamite buzz last year but never found an audience.

"It's easy to play armchair quarterback once something is over," James, who starred as Frank, the emotional if somewhat obeisant husband of lyricist Julia Houston (Debra Messing). "I honestly can't tell you why it didn't work in the end in terms of having a longer life." He nonetheless praised the efforts of the show's "amazing" ensemble cast, which included fellow Manhattan theater veterans Megan Hilty, Christian Borle, Jeremy Jordan and Andy Mientus, among others.

"Just because it didn't have three seasons instead of two doesn't mean that everyone wasn't trying 300 percent to make the best show possible," he said.

While James is hopeful another "Smash"-like television stint will come his way, his stage career remains in high gear. The cast recording of the Public Theater's "Giant," in which James starred last fall, was recently released to great fanfare. Earlier this month, the actor also reportedly took part in a staged workshop of "Finding Neverland," a musical version of the Academy Award-nominated 2004 film that producers hope to bring to Broadway and London's West End next year.

Noting that "waiting for the chips to fall" is simply a standard part of an actor's life, James nonetheless said that he is most interested "in getting an opportunity to create new roles, particularly in musical theater. That, to me, is the most thrilling and most satisfying."

Brian d'Arcy James's "Under The Influence" plays New York's 54 Below on Sept. 5, 6 and 7. For more information and tickets, click here.