Post image for CD Review: A LEAP IN THE DARK — LIVE AT FEINSTEIN’S/54 BELOW (Arielle Jacobs)

by Frank Arthur on June 26, 2018



For her debut at 54 Below in NYC – a nearly solo cabaret which was recorded for release on Broadway Records – the triple-threat Arielle Jacobs opened by letting us know that this will be the story of how she got “to here” (to Feinstein’s/54 Below, I guess). Some of the lyrics she belts in Flaherty & Ahrens “Journey to the Past,” from Anastasia, are: “Somewhere down this road / I know someone’s waiting / Years of dreams just can’t be wrong!” And it’s clear from the bat, this is going to be one of those optimistic, can-do, arms akimbo overview of a life of ups and downs that leads to, well, here.

“I’ve got a hunger burning inside me, cannot be denied” (from Schwartz’s Children of Eden) leads to a story about her first year in junior high when someone started a club called “All Against Arielle,” and she remembers being rightfully hurt at being an outcast, so she dreams of an angel coming to rescue her (the gorgeous Sarah McLachlan tune “Angel” beautifully played and arranged by Ben Moss). Turns out that the angels were Céline Dion and Mariah Carey. Arielle doesn’t fit in, so she’s gonna sing!

It’s at this point – number 7 of 31 tracks – that I hit the pause button. Here’s a really lovely woman with plucky resolve and a childlike earnestness and steadfastness that resounds so earnestly, who sometimes sings with crystalline pitch and a sumptuous quality that can be pretty damn dreamy, that it’s unfortunate her pat patter is typical cabaret cliché in the vein of “I can get through it, and so can you.” With the exception of her unforeseen trial dealing with Bell’s palsy, this banal storytelling brings down the set.

So the album rests uncomfortably between a not-too-interesting one-woman show and some really cool tunes, many from shows she has been in: “Out Tonight” from Rent, “99 Names” from the Nilo Cruz/Jim Bauer musical Farhad or the Secret of Being, “Breathe” from In the Heights, a well-thought out “Moments in the Woods” from Into the Woods, “The Wizard and I” from Wicked, and “A Whole New World” from Aladdin — all with truly exquisite accompaniment by pianist and music director Heath Saunders, Jonny Morrow (bass), Adam Kornreich (guitar), and Joe Nero (drums).

But telling us what she learned from the characters she played, and how she was worn down from working odd jobs, and how she maybe should be doing something else, and how – no matter what – she’s “Almost There,” all becomes cloying and sophomoric. Sure she’s got a mean set of pipes (sometimes thin on top), but after three encores (including two duets with Nicholas Christopher and Javier Colon) she doesn’t really seem like lead Broadway material from this album after all.

Arielle Jacobs
A Leap in the Dark — Live at Feinstein’s/54 Below
Broadway Records
released on June 15, 2018
31 tracks | 72:12
available at Amazon and iTunes

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