Don’t be fooled by Baby Jane’s approach to the stage. True, she appears frail leaning on an escort’s arm. But give her a minute to settle herself on a stool center stage. Make no mistake, this is a powerful performer. Her voice is strong. She does not play it safe with her choice of songs or her inspired interpretations. Yes, she does include some familiar standards, (“They Can’t Take That Away From Me” (George and Ira Gershwin), “I Put A Spell On You” (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins). When she sings “This Is A Man’s World” (James Brown), we hear she’s got something to say about that. She is definitely no shrinking violet.
As for the rest of the selection, where does she find these gems? In the marvelous “Big Bodied Woman” (Eric Hansen) we are convinced of the lusciousness of big thighs big feet and everything else. There are two songs that carry her name, I assume she wrote the lyrics. One is the comic “Chickie Chickie” (Baby Jane Dexter, Drey Shepperd). She takes the typical macho come on and turns it upside down. Now she is the lip smacking, noise making one. We get the joke, you go girl! Her other song “15 Ugly Minutes” (Baby Jane Dexter, Drey Shepperd) is quite a different story. We join her in the terror of being ravaged. As I recall having seen her about a year ago (she acknowledged she’s been away for awhile) that show included other painful, dramatic scenarios. One song of brutality is enough for me. As strong as she is something seems to have softened. There is very little patter during the show. She doesn’t need it, she sings it. In “The Art Teacher” (Rufus Wainwright), she takes us back to an art student’s crush on her teacher. He is her “favorite work of art”, never to be replaced.
Her comic ability is impressive. It is not just her voice but all of her can amuse us. From a raised eyebrow to a full bodied shimmy, using her hands as separate instruments, she wins us over. She even has the audience joining her as a humorous call and response chorus. We are happy to participate. Her marvelous musical director/pianist, Ian Herman is a perfect match. He knows when to hold her hand and when to let go. He impresses us with his solo piano treats. There were two spots where Baby Jane forgot her lyrics. Both performers handled this with such a light touch it only added to the entertainment.
There was no typical off stage/ on stage encore. She needed help to leave the stage. I hope that whatever is slowing her body down catches up with her strong musical abilities. Thanks Baby Jane for holding my hand!!
Baby Jane’s “MORE Rules of the Road” performs Fridays November 22 & 29; Saturday November 30; Thursday December 5 and Fridays December 13 & 27. All are at 7pm. The Metropolitan Room is located at 34 West 22nd Street (between 5th & 6th Avenues). There is a $25 music charge and a two-drink minimum. For reservations call 212/206-0440 or to pre-pay online visit www.metropolitanroom.com.