Julian Eaves reviews Rachel Bay Jones and Seth Rudetsky online as part of Seth’s concert series.
There is something thrillingly shining in the voice of this intelligent and intensely focussed artist. And the way she can leap from one role to another with such fluidity is wonderful: the journey from being an innocent, lovesick 20-year old in ‘Hair’ (Ragni/Rado/MacDermot) singing ‘Frank Mills’ with complete credibility, and then immediately to switching to playing a 60-year old crazed husband-killer in David Yazbek’s beautifully written musical components for ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’, flooding both with the same light and yet being something completely different in terms of assuming the given role. Yet, the lucid way she explained the character of Lucia revealed a character audiences hardly got to see in Jeffrey Lane’s book: maybe that had something to do with Bartlett Sher’s direction?
Whatever the reason, it’s a show that didn’t do well on Broadway, nor – in a slightly different guise – in London. Once again, cabaret rescues great lost material from the dust. And a brilliant opportunity for some wonderful back-stage gossip about what a gem Patti Lupone is: expertly told, it was a lovely, you-think-you-know-what-someone’s-like-but-you-really-have-no-idea, and Bay Jones is the ideal narrator for such a tale, side-stepping any suggestion of grandstanding but handing out creds and plaudits generously to those she loves to work with.
The journey from there to Buenos Aires was maybe not quite as far, but her approach to Eva Peron in Lloyd-Webber/Rice’s ‘Evita’ found a new individual at the heart of the story, illuminated also by the interpolation of the Spanish language lyrics, which find an altogether more poetic and loving characterisation that is quite a long distance from Rice’s tougher, harder, bitchier diva. She has played the part in both languages and done the same Anglo-French and German-language shows. This is, in other words, a real singer who can work in any language, as long as the language has music in it. ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ is something else in her hands, sounding a whole lot more vulnerable and exposed than it tends to get.
Paul Simon and Linda Ronstadt are also in her rep folder: it’s nice to get these little ‘ad-ons’ to introduce a little bit more variety into the ‘and-then-I-sang…’ format, but it also reminds us of the very close link between ‘Tin Pan Alley’ and ‘Broadway’. This is, after all, cabaret, when voices are free to roam into the territory they want to explore. ‘Unafraid to be angry, unafraid to be messy’ might be another motto of hers, and she’s not afraid to introduce dangerous colours into her music. ‘I Miss The Mountains’ from ‘Next To Normal’ by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey, a rambling country’ish cry for freedom is a perfect match for an actress who wants to push the envelope of what can be done in musical theatre. It’s a song that perfectly exemplifies the close bond between popular song genres and musical theatre, which is another recurring featured interest of this cycle.
‘So Big, So Small’ from Pasek and Paul’s ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ is another song that is magic in her hands. It’s a song that takes us right back to ‘Hair’ in making something dramatic out of a tiny incident. And then we wrapped up with another of the boys’ numbers, ‘Runnin’ Home To You’, from ‘Flash: The Musical’, so she must really, really like them. The way she sings it: we have to, too.
This week’s episode, then: maybe a little small on drama, but very big on heart. And that’s what matters.