Opening with “I’m in Love Again” by Cy Coleman, Peggy Lee, and Bill Schliger, she immediately connected with her audience. You could feel the electricity and love in the air as she sang her heart out. When she had finished the uplifting love song, she moved on to embrace Abbey Lincoln’s “Painted Lady,” a reflective piece about self-image, before delving into three songs about people desperate for love: Billy Roy’s “Bargain Day,” “Do Right Woman” by Chips Moman/Dan Penn and “Razor” by Schechtman.
It wasn’t until the sixth song, “Birth of the Blues” by DeSylva, Brown and Henderson, that she finally addressed the crowd which had filled the small venue. She commented that she has never considered herself a blues singer, although she has been identified as such for years, and went on to belt out a very heartfelt, bluesy rendition of the song. She then transitioned into one of her old-time favorites, a traditional English ballad from her Hair days, “The House of the Rising Sun.” Interpreted with great feeling and emotion, this was one of her best performances maybe because of the memories it conjures up in her.
Dexter sang 16 songs in all, some old and some new, a little Lennon/McCartney, Lance Horne, Ian Axel/Chad Vaccarino, Cavalierre/Brigati and J. F. Hanley, among them. She seemed to delight in singing “Experiment” during which she spoke at length about Cole Porter and the interesting way he interjected himself into his songs.
Especially beautiful was her version of Rodgers & Hart’s “Blue Moon” in which she really demonstrated the range of her powerful instrument as well as her ability to control and soften her tone where called for as she did at the end of this breath-taking song. Adding to the moment, creative lighting and sound man Jean-Pierre Perreaux shone a soft, romantic, blue light on the heretofore plain white backdrop and caressed Dexter’s face with it as she broke out into song. It was enchanting.
One can only wonder how much more the mood of the other songs could have been enhanced by a little dramatic lighting and color. Be that as it may, Dexter didn’t need any help conveying the meaning and emotions of the songs. She brought them all to life by pouring everything she had into each one. However, the accompaniment of her long-time musical director and pianist, Ross Patterson, complimented her voice with every note he played, enriching the experience even more. Coincidentally, he also received the MAC Lifetime Achievement Award this year.
While every number in this cabaret elicited emotion be it funny, joyful or sad, the most touching came at the end of the show when Dexter dedicated the encore to her long-time friend and cabaret great, Julie Wilson, who passed away this year. “This is the first show in my life without Julie in the audience,” said Dexter, “but she’s got a place at Booth 1 where she belongs!” She proceeded to sing “For All We Know” by Fred Karlin, Robb Wilson, and Arthur James and then stood up from her chair and walked through the crowd, greeting them as she moved towards the exit, singing REM’s “Everybody Hurts” and, just like that, the show was over.
Dexter, who has sung since she was a child and has performed at various venues across the country, is the recipient of seven major MAC Awards, two Nightlife Awards, and two Back Stage Bistro Awards.
Baby Jane Dexter: “It’s Personal!” (Saturdays, November 7, 21 and 28, and Friday, December 4, 2015.)
Metropolitan Room, 34 W. 22nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, in Manhattan
Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission