Cabaret Review: JEREMY JORDAN: BREAKING CHARACTER (Catalina Bar & Grill in Hollywood)

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by Tony Frankel on May 6, 2014

in Theater-Los Angeles

29 IS THE NEW 19

“If you ever feel stuck in your life,” Broadway, TV, and film heartthrob Jeremy Jordan told the adoring throng at his L.A. debut last night, “go back to your childhood and remember your dream.” The 29-year old was near the tail end of his 85-minute cabaret act, basically a travelogue of his recent career: Rock of Ages (Broadway), West Side Story (Broadway), Newsies (Broadway, Tony nomination), jn04Bonnie & Clyde (Broadway), Smash (TV series regular), Joyful Noise (feature film), and The Last Five Years (film adaptation to be released in the fall). And it was in the last five years almost immediately after graduating college that Jordan performed in all of the above. Regardless of the triple-threat’s talent and charisma, this is what Broadway Gypsy’s call “having it easy.” And what was the childhood struggle Jordan referred to? The Texas native was shy.

With knockout pipes, a 1000-watt smile, and boyish appeal, the hottie displayed the qualities that got him in the door, sustain his career, and required Upright Cabaret to add another performance for tonight. Wearing a short-sleeved shirt untucked over jeans, Jordan clearly has something invested in creating Breaking Character, his new solo show: “I feel better when I’m doing another character,” he admits. With all the sunny optimism of Shirley Temple, he adds: “Maybe I do have something to say.”

He tried this by offering one of his original compositions, “Good Enough.” Accompanying himself on guitar (“I’m not good enough to sing my own words”), I imagined him, knowing he’s got the stuff, serenading a salon of sorority sisters salivating over the man of their dreams, perfect as he is in body, face, voice, and puppy-dog demeanor, singing of his modesty. I’m sure most of the women and half the men at Catalina Bar & Grill had moist panties after that. (The older gentleman next to me was audibly swooning.)

Jeremy Jordan with Josefina Scaglione in WEST SIDE STORY.Unfortunately, the song itself is derivative of Once, but seemingly endless and containing about three chords. He’s not a mature songwriter, so his decision to add two more of his own tunes later on wasn’t wise. In fact, when he announced, “So here’s another song that I wrote,” he was met with stone cold silence. “You can go ahead and Woo,” he said. After the requisite “whoop-whoops” from the crowd, he looked down sheepishly at his guitar and said, “I like whoops.” Also, he offered new lyrics for “Purpose” from Avenue Q that he used to audition for the show; called “Chipotle,” it’s about the restaurant chain giving him the Hershey Squirts, but it proved him a sophomoric parodist.

It’s curious that of all his shows, the one not represented was West Side Story, far and away the best of the lot. Instead, he stuck to mainly generic Broadway and Glee-like bubble-gum pop. He showed us why he’s popular with the teen and Broadway demographic and why he gets work, but the “aw, shucks,” self-congratulatory, personality-free, boy-man on stage kept me from seeing why he’s such a star. Based on this outing, I’d cast him for Disneyland’s Kids of the Kingdom.

newsies-jeremy-jordan_240He sadly threw away “Anthem” from Chess, opening his act as if he were videotaping the power ballad for a college audition. And “Santa Fe,” the best song from Newsies, was strangely rushed and unemotional. Fortunately, 3 other numbers of his 16-song set gave us a glimpse into his cabaret potential: His decision to sing “Losing My Mind” from Follies as a love ballad instead of a tragic torch song was inspired; it also didn’t hurt that he had on his side Sondheim and a funky but beautiful arrangement played by music director Ben Rauhala. His encore of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” mashed-up with “Home” from The Wiz was enchanting and soul-stirring. And, while it was a bit too mannered, his first number, “Moving Too Fast” from The Last Five Years showed why he is perfect for the role from Jason Robert Brown’s musical: Jordan doesn’t have to act because he’s playing a fresh-in-love young writer with very early success who doesn’t quite know what to do with his meteoric rise, so he’s very up himself. (Heard in the act: “I was doing this show Rock of Ages—I don’t know if you guys ever heard of it” and “I don’t know if you guys know, but I was in this movie…” and “I’ve become a leader!” and “My songwriting used to be about the purging of inner demons—now I’m totally happy!” and, paraphrasing, “I surprised my wife with a really expensive ring that I told her we couldn’t afford.”)

He’s also newly married, and brought up on stage his spouse, “special guest” Broadway singer Ashley Spencer. Their treacly duet of Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” hurt my teeth. But I loved his co-star from Smash, the monumentally talented Krysta Rodriguez; I didn’t care for the repetitive phrasing of their duet, jeremy-jordan-“Heart-Shaped Wreckage,” and another forgettable tune from that show, but I crave to see both her and Jordan take on songs written before 1980.

But that’s not likely to happen. The new crop of nondistinctive Broadway musical stars has arrived and they’re here to stay. Jordan’s frame of reference is doing a benefit with Bernadette Peters, not seeing her perform, but he tries to come off like he’s been a lifelong Broadway gypsy who has endured the school of hard knocks, and it doesn’t jibe with his simplicity, innocence, and sweetness. I admire that he’s stretching his wings outside of a musical, but he needs a director to help shape the show. If Jordan and his contemporaries delved deeper and actually brought new life to lyrics instead of sounding like Radio Disney, the art of cabaret might see a renaissance.

photos from jeremy-jordan.com

Jeremy Jordan: Breaking Character
presented by Chris Isaacson
Catalina Bar & Grill
6725 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood
scheduled to end on May 6, 2014
for tickets, call (866) 468-3399 or visit www.ChrisIsaacsonPresents.com or www.TicketWeb.com

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Dehliaa October 18, 2014 at 5:19 pm

I saw this actor, singer, dancer in Joyful Noise and have been hooked. He brings a lot to the table. Beautiful green eyes, that 1,000 watt smile, and humbleness. He’s hard to forget because he brings so much talent to a part. Wishing him continued career success. A fan.

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