By Ron Fassler . . .
The thrill of discovery is what makes for excitement when attending the theater or cabaret in New York City. There’s nothing like the visceral exhilaration of some new (or newish) talent that surprises and delights. In light of that, my evening spent at 54 Below experiencing Taylor Iman Jones for the first time was a joy. Delivering an hour’s worth of songs (83.3% of which she wrote herself), this is an artist to start following. Though no mention was made of it at her concert, a CD is certain to come. As a songwriter, she is the real deal. As a singer, she seemingly can do no wrong.
A San Francisco native, Jones has appeared in national tours of American Idiot and Hamilton and made her Broadway debut in Groundhog Day in 2017. She followed that with a leading role in 2018’s Head Over Heels and, most recently, was Catherine Parr in Six. Joined on stage at 54 Below by fellow Six alum Keirsten Hodgens along with Isaiah Tyrelle Boyd (Book of Mormon) as her backup singers; she also had an incredibly tight band led by musical director Elijah Caldwell. The guitarist Lee Danielle Moretti, bass player Skyler Volpe, and Jesse-Ray Leich on drums were all top-notch. Henry Gottfried, listed as director, did nothing to get in the way of Jones and her audience, for which he’s to be commended. It all felt free, breezy and effortless.
With little patter, Taylor let the songs speak for themselves. Her singing is unaffected and entirely natural, her enthusiasm charming and infectious. Most of the time accompanying herself on guitar, she never forces a moment. Even when she sang with the somewhat bitter tone of “Sunlight’s Soul (Shots Fired),” inspired by the murder of Brionna Taylor, she allowed light into the darkness.
Her opening song, “Out Loud,” was boisterous and jubilant and, if not exactly setting the tone for the evening, got it off to a rousing start. As Jones put it, “heartbreak” sort of consumed her the last few years and that’s where her spirit animal led her toward the majority of her writing. Songs like “Turns Out” and “Stay” were reflections of that. Some of the lyrics in “Stay” especially stayed with me:
Stay one more hour till the sun comes up,
Stay, one more kiss till we’ve had enough.
Stay, oh what’s one more glance my way?
Only two numbers of the twelve were ones Taylor didn’t write, “Toxic,” exuberantly performed with Hodgens and Boyd, and “Holding Out For a Hero,” famous from Footloose (1984), then revived again years later in Shrek 2 (2004).
Last year in Chicago, Jones played Andy Sachs, the Anne Hathaway role in Elton John and Shaina Taub’s musical version of The Devil Wears Prada. Unfortunately, the reviews for the show were poor, though it is being retooled with Jerry Mitchell (reportedly) as its new director. Here’s hoping it gets fixed and helps launch Jones into the Broadway career she deserves. In the meantime, if she has any cabaret engagements in the near future, go see her and take a chance on this major talent.
Taylor Iman Jones played March 6 and 7 at 54 Below (254 West 54th Street, between Eighth Avenue and Broadway). There was also a live stream on the 7th at 7:00 pm (details here).
Photos: Ron Fassler
Cover photo: Isaiah Tyrell Boyd, Keirsten Hodgens and Taylor Iman Jones