BABY JANE DEXTER at NYC’s Metropolitan Room: This Time, “It’s Personal”…
One of the songs in Baby Jane Dexter’s intimate new show “It’s Personal” at New York City’s Metropolitan Room is “Painted Lady on the Stage”, an under-heard 1995 gem from iconic jazz legend Abbey Lincoln. The song, about the synergistic connection between a female performer and her audience, should be a universal anthem for ALL women in show business– whether they be singers, actresses, burlesque performers, et cetera… Due to a series of health problems through the years, Baby Jane Dexter has faced limited physical mobility, which was quite evident as she made her way to the stage. Once she took the spotlight, however, the singer compensated with a combination of limitless spirit and a well-earned aura of confidence in her maturity and legacy. And, of course, there’s her trademark commanding, deep voice. With her bullet-shaped nails painted blue and her apparent personal taste for vivid colors in her wardrobe , Ms. Dexter was indeed a “painted lady on stage”… and, like the heroine of the song, it was clear that this singer knows a thing or two about pleasing her audiences. That aforementioned commanding, deep voice has gotten Ms. Dexter much praise in her native New York. She’s been called the “Grand Dame of Cabaret”, a Title which had also been bestowed upon her friend and showbiz peer, the late Julie Wilson (to whom “It’s Personal” was dedicated). A lot of Dexter’s sound and take-no-prisoners persona is clearly influenced by the big, bold, and bawdy (mostly African-American) women of rhythm and blues. However, she has persistently refused to be “classified” throughout her career. In this show, she gives the audience a variety of “genres” and takes on a lot of classic musical gems– from Rodgers’ and Hart’s “Blue Moon” to Cole Porter’s “Experiment”. The artist has been the recipient of seven major MAC Awards, including a MAC Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015. She also won two Nightlife Awards and two Backstage Bistro Awards.
Baby Jane opened with the Cy Coleman/Peggy Lee fave “I’m In Love Again”. Listening to the lyrics, it was impossible not to interpret the song as an analogy to Dexter’s love affair with her audience and with performing: “I’m in love again, and the feelings not new; Yes I know the signs, and I know what to do. It’s a highway that I’ve travelled trough before; so i know all the curves, and I’ve come back for more”. Next up was Billy Roy’s “Bargain Day”, surely one of the most idiosyncratic songs about heartache. In the spirit of the season, Jane even threw in a joke about Black Friday. Her version of “Do Right Woman” (Moman and Penn)was like a companion piece to Billie Holiday’s “Do Your Duty”– an unambiguous request for men to treat their women right. Baby Jane’s version of the oft-covered “House of the Rising Sun” evoked quite a different mood from versions you may have heard from other artists, and it was intensely soulful. Similarly, Dexter took on The Beatles’ “Got to Get You Into My Life” and served up a raw, more cerebral incarnation… but the results were no less engaging than the original. It was thrilling to hear Jane’s take on the 1967 Young Rascals hit “How Can I Be Sure?”, which I’ve always believed was one of the most feverishly romantic songs of that era. In yet another delight, the singer transformed the giddy, schoolgirl-type crush memories of a young Judy Garland singing “Zing Went the Strings of My Heart” into a more womanly version, with buoyant joy to spare. She closed that song on a killer note. For some playful levity, Jane threw in A Great Big World’s “Everyone Is Gay”, another song begging to become a cultural anthem. And who better than Baby Jane Dexter, with her many gay fans, to usher it in?
I won’t give away the big encore/finale of “It’s Personal”, but let’s just say that the show’s closing song has become something of a staple for the singer in her live shows. Making it a tribute to Julie Wilson, Baby Jane Dexter turned the songs’ heart-wrenching lyrics into a climactic message of empowerment. It was the quintessential culmination of an intimate show in an intimate space. In other words: For Baby Jane Dexter and her fans, this event was truly “personal”!