Lisa Jason

November 4, 2015 | By | Add a Comment

Lisa JasonBullying in schools has likely been a problem ever since schools were first established. (I can personally attest that it was alive and unwell in the early 1960s.) Only lately, though, has it gotten the attention it deserves from commentators and activists.

In Massachusetts in the 1970s, Lisa Jason lived through a childhood filled with verbal and physical abuse from other children. Naturally, she would reach for whatever escape valves were available to her. Mainly she listened to the pop music of the decade. Eventually she found additional refuge in a dance class. Though her instructor there was gruff and demanding, Jason sensed that she was not receiving more abuse, but rather some valuable tough love.

Not long after completing her schooling, she moved to New York City to pursue a show business career—which means her transition from duckling to swan happened some time ago. Nevertheless, memories of the bad old days apparently hadn’t evaporated fully. Developing and performing her show “Bullied to Beautiful” seems to have been, at least in part, a way for Jason to come to terms more fully with her journey out of those nightmarish formative years.

In the show (directed by Stephen Hanks), Jason described her traumatic experiences and sang some of the songs that helped her to cope with it all. She didn’t mince words as she told of her early life, but she didn’t go into too many gory details either. Several of the songs were upbeat and spoke to the strength she gained during her ordeal. And there was considerable humor in the set.

She was at her best musically when singing in a lighter, more delicate mode, as with her version of Marvin Hamlisch and Edward Kleban’s “At the Ballet.” Her more-passionate singing—which included some sustained, decibel-heavy notes—was sometimes impressive, but because so many of the songs she sang were pop- and rock-oriented, she frequently came up short on nuance. Such a problem might be adjusted if she and musical director Ryan Shirar were to put a different spin on more of the songs. Too often, the approach to the material was very close to that of the original versions that Jason would have listened to as a girl. This was true, for instance, on medleys of signature songs recorded by Barry Manilow and Donna Summer. It wasn’t exactly karaoke singing, but it ventured in that direction.

There were a couple of numbers in which Shirar’s arrangements did take the performances in new directions. I liked the relatively sprightly tempo used on “Rainy Days and Mondays” (Roger Nichols, Paul Williams), which differentiated it from the familiar recording by the Carpenters. Jason and Shirar also went in a bold direction with Alan Gordon’s “My Heart Belongs to Me” (a minor hit for Barbra Streisand in 1977). Unfortunately, Shirar’s dramatic arrangement of the song, seemed a bit overcooked. It sounded more like the music in a movie scene where an epic battle is imminent than a wistful song about a woman shrugging off a lover she’s outgrown. Still, I appreciated the impulse to do something new and different with the number.

Toward the end of the set, Jason performed a lovely, moving version of Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen,” a song she once found the courage to sing in school to some of the very kids who had tormented her. Although the version here was not that much different from Ian’s, Jason somehow made it her own. It didn’t hurt that the song featured a fluid guitar solo from Sean Harkness. (In addition to Shirar (on piano) and Harkness, Jason was accompanied by cellist Mairi Dorman-Phaneuf and percussionist Mike Lunoe.)

Perhaps even better than “At Seventeen” was Jason’s (pre-encore) closer: an appealing original song, sung to her younger self, called “Beautiful Child.” After having performed so many songs by other people, it was a wise, refreshing choice to finish with a song of her own composition. It was as though—having finished modeling the songs that had inspired her during her troubled youth—she had at last come into her own, both as a musician and as a person.

“Bullied to Beautiful”
The Metropolitan Room  –  October 26

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Mark Dundas Wood is an arts/entertainment journalist and dramaturg. In addition to reviewing for BistroAwards.com, he contributes regularly to theaterscene.net and clydefitchreport.com. Other reviews and articles have appeared in American Theatre and Back Stage. As a dramaturg, he has worked with New Professional Theatre and the New York Musical Theatre Festival.

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