By Ron Fassler . . .

Jennifer Simard opened the first of a two-show engagement last night at 54 Below and she belted out song after song enlivened by her special brand of comedy. A funny actress and singer, you might be familiar with her by way of the seven Broadway musicals she’s been featured in over the last fifteen years or so. And, as she happily informed the crowd last evening, she is about to begin rehearsals for an eighth one, the Brittany Spears’ new fairy tale jukebox extravaganza Once Upon a One More Time. Simard has been nominated for two Tony Awards, 2016’s Disaster!, in which she played a nun with a severe gambling addiction, and in last season’s hit revival of Company, where her comedy chops were on evident display in the famed karate scene. She also has been blessed to be in a number of big hits like the 2017 Hello, Dolly! revival with all three of its leading ladies: Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters and Donna Murphy. A veteran of off-Broadway as well, she was in the long-running I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change, which she mentioned playing for twelve years— the entire length of its long run. That could have been a joke (or not), since with her unique brand of comic timing, seeped in believability, you never know.

Opening with the up tempo Dreamgirls ballad “One Night Only,” Simard started out in the audience weaving herself among the patrons at their tiny tables, finding eccentric and physical ways to slink around, even attempting at one point to slide down a tiny banister. Mid-song, she was informed by an offstage voice on a mic that she was indeed doing “two nights,” not one, which set the offbeat tone for the rest of the set. As was demonstrated by her second song, when she chose to bring up a pre-selected volunteer: Christopher Sieber, with whom she’d played in both Shrek and Company. In search of some comic gold, the business they concocted could have used a bit more practice and precision. This was an early sign that the act was lacking in a sharp directorial eye, which came to be a bit of a problem as things continued.

It became clear that Simard was going to frame the show around the inspirational women whom she’s either had the pleasure of coming to know through her admirable resume or admired from afar, which form quite a “who’s who” of formidable talent. In addition to the aforementioned trio of Dollys, she also paid tribute to Sutton Foster, Betty Buckley, Madeline Kahn, Elaine Stritch, Barbara Barrie (who was in the audience), Victoria Clark, Carolee Carmello, Ellen Greene and Faith Prince. That’s all fine, but the stories Simard told didn’t have the effect she might have hoped for, in that they lacked specificity with too much similarity in “I love her, she’s great” reminiscences. A show of this kind badly needs a script as opposed to getting up on stage and winging it. Sometimes an improvisatory approach can work, keeping things loose and easy, but it was hard not to come away with the feeling that Simard didn’t serve herself or these women as well as she could have. Her stories might have landed better given more time and thought.

Jennifer Simard – Christopher Sieber

Of course, there is the voice, which is unquestionably a powerful instrument. She’s always a welcome presence in shows I’ve seen her perform on large stages, and that made for no exception on the tiny 54 Below stage. She excelled with stirring renditions of “Unexpected Song” from Song and Dance, “Before the Parade Passes By” from Hello, Dolly!, “Never” from On the Twentieth Century and “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors. The last number, in particular, had a beautiful accompaniment from Steve Marzullo, who was the night’s sole musician (not including Simard on sandpaper, slide whistle and coconuts on one song). From my seat, I never got a chance to see Marzullo’s face, only the top of his hat. So here’s a tip of my own to his expert piano playing.

Telling of the time Bette Midler graced her presence at one of her prior cabaret shows, Simard told a story of being treated to some “notes” from her friend and mentor, with whom she’d shared a year’s run in Hello, Dolly!  As she put it, “When someone of Bette Midler’s talent and experience offers suggestions on how to better your act, you take them.” She then followed that by saying, “I appreciated the input even if she didn’t like my clothes, my songs, or my face.” That was funny, but it also begged the question what DID Midler say about her act? Because even with the abundant gifts Simard is blessed with, a cabaret show is still a tough nut to crack.

Jennifer Simard: “Can I Get Your Number” is playing March 31st and April 1st at 54 Below (254 West 54th Street). For information on more shows go to

Photos: Ron Fassler