All About Love
nytheatre.com review by Heather McAllister
November 20, 2009
A Queen of the cabaret world, Baby Jane Dexter has a deep "cigarettes and whiskey" voice and personality to match, a wonderful "boozy broad" persona that I instantly fell for in her latest show, All About Love.
When I think of love, many things come to mind: the bond of familial love; love for the beautiful and wonderful things life on earth brings: Mama's sunflowers, food and coffee and hot baths, as Emily says in Thornton Wilder's Our Town; and of course, I think of romantic love. The crushing lows, the stomach-churning insecurities, the up-til-three-am mullings and musings, prayers and hopes against hopes that your one true love will find you; and ultimately, I think of the flat out utter joy love brings, the gift of love, the "top of the world" high love brings, the ecstasy of love. But while love is the topic of Dexter's latest show, and while entertaining, Dexter's All About Love is limited in the scope of the love she sings of.
We have lots of songs of romantic love gone wrong, but very little hopeful or joyful love songs, very little optimistic or lusty love tunes. Her show focuses on being left outside in the cold while the party goes on without you. And yet that wonderful yet devastating mix of vulnerability and yearning is missing from the majority of her songs. Dexter seems over it, as if her heartbreaks were so long ago she can't communicate that pain anymore. She's healed, and on to the next party.
That said, there are a couple of big exceptions. Her interpretation of Nazareth's 1975 hit "Love Hurts," a hard rocker's song about the vulnerable heart hidden away under the leather jacket, hits home and fits Baby Jane perfectly. She's tough, and sings this one as a tough girl, a grown-up Rizzo who—though she'll never let us see her clouds of tears raining down—still feels love's kicks.
Bessie Smith's "A Good Man Is Hard To Find," which Dexter sings in a great rollicking bluesy style, also fits her voice and personality perfectly, like a Mae West for the new millennium. I wish she would do more numbers like this, more fitting to this righteous, tough rocker mama masquerading as a Cabaret Queen. I really felt the fun and joy of good love in this number.
In her one song exulting the thankful kind of love we have for friends, Bob Dylan's "If Not For You," although unfortunately much of the lyric was forgotten, Dexter handled the mishap with aplomb, and covered with charm to spare.
Her material has a wonderful range, from Ellington to the Beatles to Bob Dylan to Sondheim to R.E.M. and more. Her patter is easygoing, effortless, and light as air—and very, very bawdy. There was one story, that went on for quite a while, involving bondage and Ethel Merman, that is hilarious. Another coarse snippet concerns troubles solved at the gynecologist.
Raunchy, a little shocking, and a lot of fun, the hour-and-fifteen-minute show is a pleasant evening, giving my companion and I lots to talk about after. And when her songs reflect the raunchy, fun-loving side of her chat, Baby Jane Dexter is truly a Cabaret Goddess.