Previewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited
Baby Jane Dexter steps onto the stage of The Metropolitan Room on the first evening of her current nine-show run with the confidence and grace that have become hallmarks of this cabaret legend. Most accomplished vocalists use their physical instruments to create what becomes their signature “style.” Baby Jane Dexter sings with not only her vocal instrument: she also sings with her entire body, mind, and spirit. In fact, there are times when her vocal “instrument” includes her musical director Ross Patterson. It is sometimes difficult to discern where voice and accompaniment diverge.
Ms. Dexter’s rich and resonant contralto carries the sense and meaning of every lyric with a richness that often leaves the listener wondering just what has happened to her or his auditory senses. Whether delivering a line in a sensuous legato as she does with Rufus Wainwright’s haunting “The Art Teacher” or in a gripping staccato as she does with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You,” Baby Jane Dexter interprets lyrics in unique and complex ways.
Using the trope (here an extended metaphor) of the “one thousand mile” road trip (who remembers Mille Bornes?), Baby Jane Dexter’s “The Rules of the Road” deconstructs the distance cards of the classic family auto-trip game and maneuvers its way through the vicissitudes of life: life’s many nasty hazards, its serendipitous caesurae for “refueling,” and its unexpected interruptions for “repairs.”
Life’s hazards are brought into sharp focus in “15 Ugly Minutes” Baby Jane Dexter and Drey Shepperds’s recounting of the horrors of emotional and physical rape. Songs of refreshing refueling include “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (George and Ira Gershwin) and “Something to Live For (Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn). And life is often interrupted by the joys of new love and affirmation. No pairing in the program’s offerings captures this life opportunity more than “I’m a Believer” (Neil Diamond) and “Glad There is You” (Jimmy Dorsey and Paul Madeira). Baby Jane Dexter’s phrasing in “I’m a Believer” approaches perfection and will haunt this critic for many years to come.
Remembering Bob Dylan’s 1974 “Planet Waves” album is the quintessential way for Baby Jane Dexter to honor her own road trip: the second half of her encore (Elton Jon and Bernie Taupin’s “Never Too Old was the first half) is “Forever Young” the remarkable song co-authored, Jim Cregan, Bob Dylan, Kevin Savigar, and Rod Stewart. This is an appropriate sign-off on a flawless, timeless performance that will forever keep Baby Jane Dexter’s audiences young and young at heart.