Baby Jane Dexter
Body and Soul
Metropolitan Room, NYC, November 26, 2016
Reviewed by Randolph B. Eigenbrode for Cabaret Scenes
While her namesake wasn’t inspired by the title character of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Baby Jane Dexter’s cabaret comeback in the ’90s drew certain parallels between the two. Both were brash, fearless and each had that self-commitment that makes an audience love them even when they’re rough around the edges. More recently, Dexter has been beset by health issues and confined to a wheelchair, much like Baby Jane Hudson’s sister, Blanche. Diametrically opposite to Jane, Blanche is subdued, sedate and consumed with subtext. Sitting down at Dexter’s showing, one could wonder which of the two sisters the audience would get?
Starting the show with the jovial “(Getting Some) Fun Out of Life” (Edgar Leslie/Joe Burke), Dexter seemed to be aiming for the former—flashing that naughty grin and even doing a bit of a jig. And then the show got darker, more somber and certainly more introspective. She referenced a notebook of handwritten lyrics, rather than connect with the audience, and sang with a frayed edge tonal center.
That could be overlooked if Dexter’s typical defiant spirit were present. It wasn’t. Pieces like “Guilty” (Randy Newman), “I’m a Fool to Want You” (Joel Herron/Frank Sinatra/Jack Wolf) and “I Won’t Cry Anymore” (Al Frisch/Fred Wise) all suffered from distraction and lacked those beguiling moments so often found in Dexter’s even more recent performances. Almost holding court in her chair, one could feel the audience’s want and need for her to succeed.
And then, in her encore, she delivered. With a simple and off the page “I Can’t Give You Anything but Love” (Jimmy McHugh/Dorothy Fields), Dexter transcended the bright sentiment with a sincere plea for acceptance and, for the first time of the evening, her eyes sparkled. Here, this treatment fit neither Jane nor Blanche Hudson, but certainly made for a fitting survivor’s anthem. And Dexter, indeed, survives.
Baby Jane has additional shows December 9 & 16, both at 7 pm.