Photo: Lou Montesano

Encapsulating the promise and pain of her own life, Baby Jane Dexter is back. 

Midway through her new act, Body And Soul, running at the Metropolitan Room through December 16, the downtown cult favorite delivers a bluesy, rasping version of “I'm A Fool To Want You” (Wolf-Harron-Sinatra). She despondently sings about drowning in memories. It is one of those crucial moments in a darkened nightclub that tethers the emotional, fanciful and carefree world that defines her show against a background of fierce realities and a road less traveled. It is a road she is familiar with. The song is a metaphor for what might have been - personally and professionally. Dexter has faced enough medical and personal crisis' to fall a redwood. Ever the Phoenix, she has risen from the ashes with high spirits and grit. She celebrates that grit through songs that pierce the heart like “Reckless Blues” and “I Won't Cry Anymore” (Frisch-Wise). But she also takes a poke at a wilder life with soul-tinged ditties like “Arm and A Leg” and Randy Newman's“Guilty/”. She paces herself through an emotional workout on that stage regardless of days past.


Seated in a wheelchair with her cheat sheets (like Streisand, et al.), she remarks that instead of walking these days, she takes herself wheeling. She chides about this after tripping through Portia Nelson's silly “Hole In the Sidewalk”. It is her only reference to infirmity. If Dexter's delivery in her act feels particularly authentic, it is because she has lived those lyrics and fallen in more than one hole. And, as with all her shows, it's not perfect. Her voice is not perfect. It's not definitive cabaret. However, quite simply, it's all about truth - her truth. And, that's why she's called the real thing. Her candor makes it about as authentic as it gets. Where lesser artists might crumble, Dexter moves on fueled by her songs. All this is what makes her shows worthwhile and brings more meaning to her quixotic words. For instance, singing a stripped down, passion fueled “LA Breakdown,” Dexter embraces going back... it's tough for me just living... crippled by my failures and the ache along my spine, back to old forgotten places half remembered names and faces - in medley with a sultry “Body And Soul.” (Heyman-Sour-Green.) Such naked honesty fused with a fiercely raw mix of emotions touches a nerve that she seamlessly conveys in a blunt delivery. It is a spellbinding moment. It is also the life she has led and a masterclass in the honesty of a lyric. You see, Dexter has not had an easy road over the last few years due to health issues. Lesser heads might have broken down. Not this force of nature. Hers is an example of truth in song that is her calling card in one of her most powerful shows to date.

Once a footnote in Gotham's nightlife and part of a unique breed of performers that came out of the seventies, today, those footnotes are as important as the chapters. Baby Jane is the scrapbook and the clippings too. Right or wrong, warts and all, she shares it all, in this must-see show.

Not enough can be said about the contributions of Ross Patterson at the piano. His jazzy improvisations on his concerto-like arrangements are nothing less than brilliant. At times, it feels like there is an orchestra on stage. At other times, his diminuendo is so gentle, it whispers like a quiet breeze. I think that's called genius.

Baby Jane Dexter appears at the Metropolitan Room on Fridays, December 9 and 16. Reservations: 212 206 09440 or www.metropolitanroom.com

Full disclosure: I did not plan to write about Baby Jane. However, after seeing this new show, I was compelled to say what should be said - even using a site that is being rebuilt.

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