Barb Jungr bops back and forth with an impish grin to even the most depressing and occasionally inscrutable Bob Dylan lyrics, grooving not so much to his dark view of the world as his brilliance. As Barb mentions, “He is the Shakespeare of our time.” Her admiration for both Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen, the two lyrical geniuses she has chosen to interpret in her show “Hard Rain,” is palpable.
As the evening of their songs progresses, she engages us with an occasional anecdote about the two legends, never too lengthy or self-indulgent, and gives us her take on the personalities of Dylan and Cohen. Even as Ms. Jungr tells us she has reached the age of 60, there is something irrepressibly young about her demeanor and energy.
Some fans of Bob Dylan love his nasal rasp. Others wish he had more vocal range. So it is almost always a pleasure to hear someone cover Dylan’s songs and Ms. Jungr does so masterfully. There were times in the first song, “It’s Alright Ma (I’m only Bleeding)” where the density and speed of Dylan’s poetry made me strain to hear all the words. I found myself wishing for supertitles or Julie Andrews style diction. At other times I got fatigued and wished for video or dance or some other supplementary visual stimulation to augment the show. The theatrical, rather than cabaret, setting demanded something more than just the three performers on stage. Barb Jungr is joined by pianist Tracy Stark and percussionist Mike Lunoe.
But Ms. Jungr’s interpretations are a pleasure that I would not trade away. The next day I felt compelled to play a video of “Things Have Changed” on the internet. In Judaism there is a concept, teshuva, a returning to God. Barb Jungr made me want to return to Dylan and Cohen and listen to them over and over again. She is particularly adroit at interpreting Leonard Cohen. Her version of “Everybody Knows” was extraordinary — moving, sad, and wise.
If songs that focus on our culture’s deep flaws and our personal foibles can be at all optimistic, it is in Barb Jungr’s attitude of “if you understand, you can overcome,” or at the least, “just attune so that you might care.” She channeled our modern prophets and brought them to an audience that seemed to be her age and above. She left us enlightened, yearning for more of these brilliant lyricists, and… younger.
Lighting design by JP Perreux with Emma Wilk. Performances continue through Sunday at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street, Manhattan; 212-753-5959, 59e59.org.