Club Review: Amy Jo Jackson’s “The Brass Menagerie”

September 27, 2021 | By | Add a Comment

Amy Jo Jackson in The Brass Menagerie.

When Amy Jo Jackson says she’s offering the CliffsNotes guide to Tennessee Williams’s body of work in The Brass Menagerie, she’s being cheeky. It’s far too modest. But she would know that, because she knows exactly what she’s doing.

The characters from Williams’s plays are emotionally linked with troubled members of his own family, and Jackson gives them their own moments to shine. Sometimes it’s in cleverly-chosen parodies of musical theatre or pop songs; other times, it’s a brief narration or verbatim monologues and scenes. And while Jackson completely honors their original contexts, she unmoors these real and fictional creatures from Williams’s world and invites them into ours in a way that’s both incisively intelligent and very entertaining. Jackson is the writer, she is joined onstage by music director Brian Nash on piano; and the show is directed by Andrew Neisler.

“The Brass Menagerie” initially presents as funny, and it is. Very. Serafina De La Rose from The Rose Tattoo is a broad character, comically delivered with an arch Italian accent and a vocal placement in a permanent yawn. Alexandra Del Largo from Sweet Bird of Youth has a holier-than-thou English-come Mid-Atlantic sound—you can actually hear her looking down her nose at you. As a singer, Jackson’s old-school Broadway belt is as brassy as you’d want it; she can find a mid-century cool jazz sound, create a pitchy and fragile singing voice for Laura Wingfield from The Glass Menagerie, cover an Adele pop song with soul, and act the daylights out of it. Jackson has a palette of vocal options to draw from, and she uses them deftly—and to loosely quote Merce Cunningham, if you’ll indulge me here for a moment—she does it not to show off, but to show. It’s something else to see a performer with skills of this caliber channel her significant range and her masterful acting into the discipline of serving her content and her audience. Somehow the performance manages to be lighthearted and ironic, and incredibly serious and moving—it has scholarly things to say and very silly things to say, and they all live together in a complex harmony in this beautifully-realized piece of work.

So if you can imagine that Blanche DuBois has something in common with June Christy—who made a splash with cool vocals for Stan Kenton—or if you think musical theatre songs with cannibal references are funny, please, please grab a hot weather drink and settle in to spend some quality time with Amy Jo Jackson whenever this show comes around again. You sometimes hear about Hollywood celebrities “discovering” a one-person show and swooping in as producers to give it a Broadway run. I nominate Reese Witherspoon.

***

Presented at Feinstein’s/5f4 Below on September 16, 2021.

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

From Canada, Penelope Thomas came to NY to study dance with Merce Cunningham; then through a series of fortunate and unfortunate events, she wound up back in singing and acting. Credits include lead vocals with FauveMuseum on two albums and live at Symphony Space, singing back-up for Bistro Awards director Shellen Lubin at the Metropolitan Room, reading poet Ann Carson’s work at the Whitney, and touring North America and Europe with Mikel Rouse’s The End of Cinematics. In Toronto, she studied piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music and cello with the Claude Watson School for the Arts, and in New York she studied music theory with Mark Wade. She's taught in the New School’s Sweat musical theatre intensive and taught dance in public schools and conservatories.

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