In the course of her cabaret act featuring the music of Cy Coleman, Jana Robbins sings "You Fascinate Me So" (lyrics by Carolyn Leigh). Well, this lady fascinates us plenty. She has undeniable stage presence, exhibits terrific acting chops, and commits fully to every song she sings.
Most effective on quiet ballads because they allow her to more fully use her acting skills, Robbins can also let go and belt an uptempo tune. If there's one drawback in her performance, however, it's that the sound of her voice at full tilt can strike some sensitive ears as harsh...or perhaps that's a function of being overmiked, a sound design issue that crops up at several clubs where microphones aren't really even needed.
Nonetheless, Robbins is a longtime theater pro who knows how to entertain an audience. She first met Coleman when she worked on Broadway in his musical I Love My Wife. She has been a fan of his (and vice versa) ever since, and it's her knowledge of the composer's work that fuels this act. You might say that the music has marinated in her soul and that, when she sings, these songs have a flavor that can only come from having lived with the material. There is a Broadway swagger in Coleman's writing style; Robbins meets it and greets it with her own bigger-than-life theatricality.
Her show at Danny's Skylight Room is called One Hell of a Ride! The title is apts, as she moves from a tenderly conceived and beautifully acted "Baby, Dream Your Dream" to a blazing, torch-lit "Where Am I Going?" (both from Sweet Charity, both with lyrics by Dorothy Fields). Most of the songs in this act have lyrics either by Fields or Carolyn Leigh, two of Coleman's most important collaborators. But Robbins also includes a couple of numbers for which David Zippel wrote the lyrics and she wraps her emotions around them as well, as in the lovely, romantic ballad "With Every Breath I Take" from City of Angels.
Robbins is a versatile performer who can be ferocious with her material and then, in the next moment, turn around and capture a song's tenderness and vulnerability. What you're seeing and hearing is a career's worth of musical theater technique displayed on a cabaret stage. Whereas some theater performers use their technique as a shield to hide their true personalities, Robbins' uses it to communicate exactly who she is. What comes through is a warm and vivacious woman. Yes, she's a creature of the theater, but you feel as if you're seeing a person truly reveal herself in song.
The show is written and structured with considerable craft by director D. J. Salisbury. Robbins gets further, fine support from her new-on-the-scene musical director/pianist Doyle Neumeyer, whose arrangements are unobtrusive yet decisive. He's a find. And if you haven't found Jana Robbins yet, you can do so at Danny's on Sunday, May 12 at 8:45pm.
[Ed. Note: You can find additional cabaret reviews by the Siegels at Stu Hamstra's www.cabarethotlineonline.com]