By Ron Fassler
For one-night only, it was actor and singer Jeremy Jordan’s turn to sit in a well-upholstered chair (as if in a living room) beside the masterful host and musical accompanist, Seth Rudetsky, for an evening of songs and stories at Town Hall. Jordan, a veteran of leading roles in such musicals as Newsies and Bonnie and Clyde, was also seen recently in the Kerry Washington-Steven Pasquale play American Son on Broadway, which Rudetsky chided him about, demanding that Jordan only be seen in musicals, since depriving us of his singing is basically a sin.
You can’t blame Jordan for wanting more diverse opportunities to display his talents, but after hearing him perform a glorious dozen songs, I have to say that Rudetsky isn’t all that wrong.
Not only is Jordan blessed with a beautiful instrument, I believe the reason as to why he nailed song and song is due to his not succumbing to histrionics. I could name song stylist one after another, each blessed with voices as beautiful as Jordan’s, but for whom standing on a stage and simply telling the stories of the songs they interpret, instead, make the songs all about them. This never happened at any point in the largely improvised show that was thoroughly entertaining from start to finish. The third and final one in this series, the task at hand is for the singers Rudetsky has engaged to come onto the stage with no real sense of the order, or sometimes even the keys, from which songs in their repertoire will be chosen. I didn’t see special guest number one (Audra McDonald), but special guest number two (Kelli O’Hara), was a total delight. Jordan, with a charming and winning presence, was a perfect choice—even if the always sarcastic Rudetsky agreed that the appearances in the series were done in descending order of Tony Awards and nominations (for the record, Jordan has but one nomination, compared to a combined total of 7 Tonys and 14 nominations for McDonald and O’Hara). Talk about making someone feel insecure!
But honestly, there is no reason for it. Jordan has total command, no more so than when for his encore, he chose to go “unplugged.” Eschewing his microphone, he sat quietly (and I do mean quietly) and magnificently performed “Bring Him Home” from Les Miserables. Sometimes a cliché is the only one that can be used, so I will tell you that you could have heard a pin drop.
As I wrote in my review for this column when I saw Kelli O’Hara in this format, that “instead of getting to see and hear a performer in his or her well-constructed cabaret act, what we get instead is a moment-to-moment free for all, with Rudetsky jumping from song to story to song, resulting in a spontaneity that even if it’s roughly rehearsed, yields amazing surprises (or as Rudetsky would say “ah-mahzing!). The singers aren’t really clued in to what Rudetsky will ask them to sing (although they certainly have a good idea, as the songs match their career highlights), which leads to interesting choices in tempo and performance.”
It’s good news indeed that Rudetsky announced from the stage last night that there will be another series to come in the fall of this year, which I hope is not relegated to a mere three special guests. Structurally, I think it’s a brilliant way to not only show off someone talents, but get to know them in a way that knocks them off their pins a bit, which brings out a delicious playfulness that you otherwise don’t see in a more polished setting.
Here’s the running order :
“Everything’s Coming Up Roses” (Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim—though with new lyrics written by Jordan himself that were extremely funny)
“You’re the One That I Want” (John Farrar)
“So Far Away” (Carole King)
“Something’s Coming” (Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim)
“Broadway, Here I Come! (Joe Iconis)
“Moving Too Fast” (Jason Robert Brown)
“She Used to Be Mine” (Sara Bareilles)
“Bonnie” (Frank Wildhorn and Don Black)
“Santa Fe” (Alan Menken and Jack Feldman)
“Smile” and “I’ll Be Seeing You” (Charles Chaplin, John Turner & Geoffrey Parsons; Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal)
“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Home” (Harold Arlen & Yip Harburg; Charles Smalls)
“Bring Him Home” (Charles-Michel Schönberg, Alain Boublil and Herbert Kretzmer)
Jeremy Jordan in Performance and Conversation with Seth Rudetsky was at The Town Hall, 123 W 43rd Street, NYC, March 11, 2019.