Amy Jo Jackson
When statuesque, platinum blonde Amy Jo Jackson entered Feinstein’s/54 Below in her new show, “I Want To Be Your Man,” she owned the stage by sheer physical force before she uttered a note. This turned out to be a very good thing because the show she presented took a bit of time to catch up to the energy of her entrance. Fortunately, as the evening went on, the look, the style, the voice and the substance equalized to become a very bright, smart, cohesive and involving whole. Even the sound, which was uncharacteristically bad in the opening numbers, also got better.
The hook of “I Want to Be Your Man” was Jackson doing material associated with male performers and/or characters, most often with a woman as the object of the song. She opened with Fountains of Wayne’s “Stacy’s Mom” (Chris Collingwood, Adam Schlesinger), which was too lightweight an introduction by far, but might have at least offered some connection to the show with its story of a young man’s infatuation with an older woman if she hadn’t wasted what little there was to the song on the tired and obvious shtick of exaggerated, choppy melisma and rock performance quirks. It’s perhaps not the best idea to begin a show making fun of your opening number while you’re performing it. Her second number, “Man” (David Yazbek), again offered little interest either on its own or in relation to the premise. Kander & Ebb’s “Dressing Them Up” might have fared better if the singer hadn’t quickly switched into loud and piercing overdrive. The gentle pleasures and longing of the piece were crushed under the weight of the bombastic arrangement.
Things brightened considerably when she was joined by Sarah White, Audra Cramer, and Deborah Berenson for Frank Loesser’s “Standing on the Corner.” The possibilities of the show’s concept began to crystallize in the juxtaposition of dewy harmonies with—particularly in women’s voices—disturbing lyrics. Jackson really kicked into gear with Tim Minchin’s “The Smell of Rebellion.” As she prowled the audience spitting out the child-hating diatribe of a monstrous headmistress, she was so funny, so fiery, and so ferocious that producers should reconsider their choice of having a male performer play the character in Matilda the Musical. At her best, she displayed the antic flair and powerhouse vocals of a young Dorothy Loudon.
Though overlong, a section entitled “The Inevitable Sexist Medley” was terrific. However, it would have been even better with some judicious pruning, bringing the remaining selections into clearer focus. Of the 13 songs in the medley, Lerner & Loewe’s “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” stood out as one of the delights of the evening, overflowing with benign sexism brought to a boil by the singer’s spot-on delivery. But for every song that hit the mark (like “Young Girl,” by Jerry Fuller and a hit for Gary Puckett and The Union Gap, and Neil Diamond’s “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”) there were others that offered little in either music or comment (like “Wiggle” by Jason Derulo and Maroon 5’s “Animals” by Adam Levine, Benny Blanco, and Shellback). But overall, the medley brought the show to an entirely new level, and from that point on it was a well-oiled, highly entertaining machine.
The quietest moment of the evening was also one of its most effective—a pairing of Lerner & Loewe’s “If Ever I Would Leave You” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well.” A duet with special guest Bonnie Milligan on “Feed Me” (Alan Menken, Howard Ashman) burned up the stage. The 11 o’clock number for the show was “Soliloquy” (Rodgers & Hammerstein, from Carousel). Jackson gave it a remarkable performance and the song proved to be the perfect wrap-up for the concerns and journey of “I Want to Be Your Man” and made it easy to forgive a silly, sing-along encore.
On piano, music director Brian J. Nash, after that problematic opening, contributed some fine arrangements. It is refreshing, and in keeping with the theme of the evening, that the band was a mix of women and men, with Lily Maase on guitar, Mary Ann McSweeney on bass, and Jeremy Yaddaw on drums. The show had something to say about gender and misogyny in pop culture, but the main message that came across was that Amy Jo Jackson is a star.
“I Want to Be Your Man”
Feinstein’s/54 Below – May 12, 14
About the Author
Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”