Barb Jungr and John McDaniel

October 28, 2018 | By | Add a Comment

In their show 1968 – Let the Sun Shine In, recently at Birdland, Barb Jungr and John McDaniel dove into the amazingly rich pool of music that 1968 produced. It seemed a natural follow-up to their Beatles celebration, Come Together. Jungr, who has long been recognized as an incisive interpreter of popular music, was in rare form, giving unexpected settings to songs that might have been deemed overly familiar. McDaniel on piano provided smart and smooth accompaniment, and his easy style was a surprisingly effective foundation for the singer’s raw and revelatory attack.

“Do You Know the Way to San Jose” (Burt Bacharach, Hal David) thrilled with understated longing and loss, benefiting immensely from Jungr’s pre-song patter. I have often thought that she could do an entire show without music and keep an audience captivated with her wild humor, personal reminiscences, and dramatic storytelling. A timely mix of “Revolution” (Lennon & McCartney) and “Street Fighting Man” (Mick Jagger, Keith Richards) was electric. Her take on the Supremes’ “Love Child” (R. Dean Taylor, Frank Wilson, Pam Sawyer, Deke Richards) bristled with anger and pain in its indictment of society’s notions of race and class, and made us listen to the song with 2018 ears. It also left me hoping that there is a Motown show in Jungr’s future. Acknowledging the influence of Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity, along with her love for Bob Dylan, she tore into “This Wheel’s on Fire” (Dylan, Rick Danko), a song perhaps more readily recognized as the theme from Absolutely Fabulous. The current relevance of Lennon and McCartney’s “Back in the U.S.S.R.” did not go unnoticed and it informed her personal interpretation. Selections from Hair were fun, but more traditional than the rest of the evening.

It is when the two sang together that the partnership was less parsley-and-sage and more oil-and-water. Jungr grabs the beating heart of each song and parades it around the stage—dissecting, magnifying, illuminating, reshaping. McDaniel has the heart of a Vegas showman, and his somewhat bloodless counterpoint and supporting vocals proved distracting and often intrusive. I don’t think there was a song that would not have benefited from Jungr singing the choruses on her own. When the two conversed on stage, Jungr’s natural wit and style were replaced with awkward, Oscar-night-presentation stiffness. On his own, he ventured into “Son of a Preacher Man” (John Hurley, Ronnie Wilkins) but settled into a sad nostalgia rather than a pulsing sexuality, undercutting the same-sex revisionism that he indicated in his introduction. He fared much better on Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” on which he offered his most natural performance of the evening; its mix of hesitant hope and reflective despair was beautiful.

But it was Barb Jungr that gave the show its considerable heart and soul. Her loose and sometimes wacky choreographic movements, her riotous double takes, and her deceptively “off the cuff” remarks interwove with her vocals seamlessly. She did indeed let the sun shine in on much of this fifty-year-old material in fresh and memorable ways.

1968 – Let the Sun Shine In
Birdland – October 22

Category: Reviews


About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning Monday in the Dark with George and Put On Your Saturday Suit – Words & Music by Jimmy Webb—and directed many cabaret artists, among them André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs The David Drumgold Variety Show at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center monthly, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He's taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London's Goldsmith's College, and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York's performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is currently an artist in residence at Pangea, presenting a monthly variety show called Fabulous First Fridays.

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