Friday, October 31, 2014

Jeremy Jordan at 54 Below: "Breaking Character" - Rolling The Dice and Winning the Bet!

I first became aware of Jeremy Jordan and his extraordinary talents when I saw him in the short-lived Broadway musical "Bonnie and Clyde," in which he originated the role of Clyde.  I next saw him in "Newsies," as he played the role of Jack Kelly.  He went on to star in the second season of the TV show "Smash," and most recently played the role of J.M. Barrie in the American Repertory Theater's pre-Broadway production of "Finding Neverland."  I also saw him perform along with Bernadette Peters and Norm Lewis in a Sondheim mash-up entitled "A Bed and A Chair"  at the New York City Center.

When Mr. Jordan took the stage at the 54 Below cabaret, he was taking a risk he had never taken before: performing solo as himself and not as a scripted character.  Hence the title of his show: "Breaking Character."  Once he broke through that barrier of fear, he continued "Smashing" through several more layers of protection, sharing personal reflections of a troubled childhood, the fear of never being "good enough," and performing for the first time some songs that he has written. In fact one of those songs, "Good Enough," tells of his pilgrimage from feeling inadequate to do what he was doing on the stage to arriving at a point of realizing that he was indeed good enough to command a place like 54 Below and to send audience members home feeling as if their money had been well spent.  Another song he has written and that he performed is the humorous "Chipotle" inspired by a tune from "Avenue Q."

While the audience was applauding one of the early numbers in the set, I turned to my left and realized that sitting at the next table was Jeremy's wife, Ashley Spencer, whom I had met when Jeremy was in residence in Cambridge this summer and fall.  Sitting with Ashley was Jeanna de Waal, who played J.M. Barrie's wife, Mary, in "Finding Neverland."  Ms. de Waal is currently appearing in "Kinky Boots."  Also sitting at the same ringside table was Keke Palmer, who is currently appearing in the title role in Broadway's "Cinderella."  Ashley joined her husband on stage in a medley of "Heaven," "More Than Words" and "To Be With You."  She later returned to join Jeremy in a medley of songs from "Smash."  Keke then joined Jeremy in a duet version of "Maybe I'm Amazed."

Two of the highlights of the evening were Mr. Jordan's rendering of "Broadway, Here I Come!"  and "Santa Fe."  He introduced the song "Broadway, Here I Come!" with some transparent comments about how tough it can be to ride the emotional roller coaster of show business, including the disappointment of seeing a project like "Smash" close after its second season.  At the end of this song, as he sustained the word "come," the note hung in the air and resonated with a purity that is seldom heard on any stage.  It was a magical moment.   The final song of his set came from his role as Jack Kelly.  He talked about being a fan of the Disney film as a young man and dreaming of some day being someone as courageous a leader as the rough hewn New Yorker.  So, his being cast in the Broadway version of the show was in many ways a dream come true.  His rendition of the song combines the two versions from the show. The first occurs early in Act I and the second -  and more pathos-filled - closes Act I as Kelly, beaten down and discouraged seeks to find a refuge to which he can flee and hide after his efforts at leading a strike had ended in utter failure.  I can never hear Mr. Jordan sing that song without experiencing chills and tears.  It was a fitting ending to remarkable evening.  The encore of "Over The Rainbow" and "Home" was icing on the cake.

In this solo concert, Jeremy Jordan took some enormous emotional risks, and it was clear that allowing the audience to gain a degree of access to the man behind the actor was a gamble worth taking.  The audience was warmly enthusiastic in the ovation that followed the encore.

There are still several opportunities through November 13 to catch "Breaking Character." You won't regret it.



54 Below Website

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