‘Jennuinely’ Jennifer Damiano at 54 Below




by: Monica Charline Brown


Encore dates are always a good sign. At a club such as Feinstein’s/54 Below, where the schedule of events overflows with talent, Jennifer Damiano clearly had another successful solo show. Following three performances back in the end of July, “Jennuinely” mirrored her effortlessly cool vibe and added in a dash of excitement about telling her truth through cabaret.


She jumped onstage with the essence of a rock concert star instantly taking over. Dynamic lights raved to beats from hard-hitting drums, and Feinstein’s straightaway felt unfamiliar and brimming with newfound energy. The tune she was crooning is Gavin DeGraw’s “I Don’t Want To Be,” and it was a picture-perfect opening number to capture the crux of Jenn. At a ripe 25 years old, her tremendous success on Broadway so far seems to derive from comfort and a firm knowledge of knowing who she is, reveling in sharing herself with an audience.


“Jennuinely” revolved around simultaneously working consistently and coming into adulthood in the entertainment business. Her career started as a 15-year-old teen in Spring Awakening, when what would become the generational hit musical, was seeking real teenagers to tackle the pubescent nature of the piece. She sang her audition song, child of the nineties anthem, Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn.” Obviously it served her as well back then as today, as she landed the understudy of the lead, Wendla. She celebrated that success with the song “Mama Who Bore Me,” as we learned she unfortunately was never able to perform the role on Broadway due to clear legal issues with sexual content and underage status. Jenn channeled that teenage angst with No Doubt’s “Just a Girl,” nevertheless ending this portion with a nice acoustic version of Spring Awakening’s “My Junk.”


The next game changer was Natalie in Next to Normal. It was funny to learn how Jenn didn’t want to audition at first because of wishing to stay with Spring Awakening until she was old enough to take over Wendla. Thankfully, her team pushed her to audition, leading to a Tony nomination. She whispered “the belting is upon us” and proceeded to nail a cut song from the off-Broadway version of Next to Normal, “Growing Up Unstable.” Balancing tutoring, Next to Normal rehearsals, and Spring Awakening performances, her on-stage teenage angst was easy to draw upon from her chaotic life. She paid tribute to her parents for making her dreams possible with the poignant Billy Joel ballad, “Vienna.”


Alice Ripley, Tony award winner in addition to Jenn’s on-stage bi-polar mother and real life best friend, joined Jenn for Next to Normal’s “Maybe.” They also revealed one of Alice’s eclectic original songs, titled “When I’m Olde.” Furthermore, she invited the actor who played her character’s boyfriend, Henry, in the Buenos Aires version of Next to Normal, Fernando Dente, for “Hey #3.” They had met in a reunion concert the original American cast and Argentinian cast performed together, and relived the beautiful connection of combining the English and Spanish versions. And of course, Jenn reprised “Everything Else” and “Superboy and the Invisible Girl” because everyone would have been upset if she had left them off the program.


Her stand out moment of the entire evening actually seemed to be “If the World Should End” from Spider-Man Turn Off the Dark. Her raw emotional honesty combined with the simplicity of the number sent chills up my spine. Because we can’t stay in a dark place for too long, Twitter friend turned gal pal Leslie Margherita joined her for a Selena Gomez song about loving who you really are, “Who Says.” Towards the end of the concert, she unapologetically hinted at her personal life with Fiona Apple’s “I Know,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” and Alanis Morrisette’s “Hand in My Pocket.” Each of these pop songs revealed a little different side of Jenn and added up to a fitting bookend to “Jennuinely.”


Music Director, Pianist, and the inspiration for “Jennuinely” to materialize, Benjamin Rauhala led the killer band comprised of Alexandra Eckhardt on bass, David Cinquegrana on guitar, Jared Schonig on drums, and Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf on cello. Brian Yorkey served as co-writer and “Jennuinely” was produced by John Mara Jr. After closing “American Pyscho” a few months ago, I am looking forward to seeing where Jenn’s journey takes her next.


Photos: Sandi Durell