Reviewed by Joe Regan Jr. – January 7th
Jennifer Laura Thompson is the latest Broadway star to tackle a cabaret act at 54 Below. Her autobiographical show is built upon a big book about phobias and curious statistics from which she reads humorous entries and applies them to herself and members of the audience. The stunning redhead has appeared on Broadway in “Footloose,” “Urinetown,” (for which she received a Best Actress Tony nomination) “Wicked” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It.”
One of the special highlights is her singing “Cell Block Tango” from “Chicago,” relating her history with “Urinetown” from workshop to off-Broadway to Broadway, with play on the word “Lipshitz” which she applies to her favorite composer who offered the lead in his new musical at the same time she found out that “Urinetown” was moving to Broadway. She chose “Urinetown” and the songwriter sent her a nasty note. She gloats that his musical never made it to Broadway.
She was chosen to replace Kristin Chenoweth in “Wicked.” She had to tell them how tall she was and she learned later it was because they had to cut the golden top frame of the bubble in which she made her entrance. She sings “Popular” in that show as an imitation of a spiteful high school girl making nasty comments about her peers.
Thompson confesses she would have related more to the Elphaba part and does a wonderful wicked version of “I’m Not That Girl.“
Thompson reveals some things about her husband who puts up with her craziness and she honors him with a beautiful rendition of “Crazy Love.” We hear about her son who mispronounces words and she confesses she never corrects him. Then she invites her son “Tony” on the stage and a burly beefy big adult man in a weirdly labeled sweat shirt bounces on stage. They start singing “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off” but with very weird mispronunciations from the man. They argue humorously several times when she tries to correct him and they finally end the number in great harmony. I learned later that this man was Chris Thompson from “Nice Work If You Can Get” and many of the other members of the cast including Michael McGrath were in the boisterous audience.
She told how honored she was to make her Carnegie Hall debut at a program honoring Stephen Schwartz. The song he chose for her to sing was a delicious “West End Avenue.” It was a special treat to hear her sing that rueful ode to an apartment on that street. She sang a dramatic song entitled “Sorry Now” and ended with gorgeous love song to the audience entitled “Glad You Came.”
The whole act has the feeling of a wonderful semi-private party and I had a great time. Thompson was fortunate to have a terrific band behind her: Mary-Mitchell Campbell was her music director and pianist, Andy Blanco was on drums and percussion and Jim Hershman was on bass guitar.
Jennifer Laura Thompson repeats her show at 54 Below on Saturday, January 11 at 11 PM. Reservations are strongly suggested.
(646) 476-3551 – 54 Below – 254 W 54th St, Cellar – New York, NY 10019