A Leap in the Dark
Feinstein’s/54 Below, NYC, April 9, 2017
Reviewed by Randolph B. Eigenbrode for Cabaret Scenes
Early in her solo debut, Arielle Jacobs sings “Where there was nothing, let there be something; something made by me,” and her youthful sincerity resonates so deftly, you smile at her resolve. Indeed, Jacobs has a capable offering, showcasing strong skills and an (at times) interesting backstory. This includes growing up an outcast, discovering performing, moving to NYC, and the side jobs to make ends meet while dreaming of getting the Broadway “call.” Of course, these clichéd rites of passage have been shared in cabaret rooms for decades, and a welcome story diversion comes when Jacobs explores her unexpected struggles with Bell’s palsy. Particularly strong are both “On My Way” (Jeanine Tesori/Brian Crowley) and “Almost There” (Randy Newman), filled with irresistible pluck.
Jacobs’ appeal is undeniable. There’s that million dollar voice with a lush tone, laser-like control of pitch, and an impressively healthy belt. And her physical allure is model-like, or at least TV-show host worthy, and when she flashes that mega-watt smile, the audience falls in love.
Yet the piece struggles under the weight of a patter-heavy book. While more of a one-woman show, little illuminates Jacobs’ insecurities or, worse, vulnerabilities. She mentions frustrations and fears, but we don’t get to feel them. And musically she isn’t often aided with material to foster the intricacies of these emotions. Performing songs of characters she has played (in mainly their original context) does little to highlight who Jacobs really is. And even a piece like “I Have Nothing” (David Foster/Linda Thompson), perfect for her Bell’s palsy consternation, flounders with its Whitney Houston-sounding arrangement; subconscious comparisons are inevitable.
For a leap so grand, you want Jacobs to land gracefully. But it’s the lack of light in this leap that otherwise disappoints on what could have been a vehicle worthy of her leading-lady qualities.