Jackie Hoffman(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Jackie Hoffman
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Jackie Hoffman is fast becoming a Joe's Pub institution. As soon as she announces an extension of her hit shows there, the added dates sell out and she extends again -- and again. Her current holiday show, Jackie Hoffman: Chanukah at Joe's Pub has been extended into mid-January. Whoever heard of such a thing? But just as Chanukah celebrates the miracle of a little bit of oil lasting eight days, Hoffman is a miracle in her own right.

What is it about this performer that has made her such a hit? Unlike many other comedians, she doesn't tell jokes as much as she tells the truth. It's her style that's funny. Hoffman's unvarnished, acidic comments on her life, her family, and the world in general ricochet off of our own more guarded sensibilities; we laugh because we're grateful that she has articulated something we might never openly admit. Her targets are hardly cutting edge -- her mother, her health, her career, her Jewish roots -- but she's wildly irreverent in talking about these and other "safe" issues. Audiences dig her because of her anger; they respond to the attitude beneath the comedy, and they get the pain that drives the humor.

People wouldn't keep coming back for more if Hoffman wasn't consistently funny and always original. Her rhythms are her own; her delivery is like the sound of a gunshot, catching you off-guard with its comic impact. That "gunshot" comparison is not lightly made; Hoffman can be very loud. She is not a comedian who waits for you to come to her; rather, she goes out and gets you. Not everything that she does works, but it isn't for lack of taking risks. And she wisely works with some very talented people, such as her wonderful musical director, Bobby Peaco (who is also a dryly effective foil for her), and her inventive director, Michael Schiralli. We can't wait to see what this woman comes up with next year!

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Rebecca Luker
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
Rebecca Luker
(Photo © Joseph Marzullo)
We Like Luker

In her four-night debut engagement at Feinstein's at the Regency last week, Rebecca Luker was extremely impressive -- so much so that the she will return to the club in the spring, May 9-20. Although her first stint there fell in mid-December, she pointedly did not perform holiday-themed material, and we are eternally grateful for this. Instead, she built her act with songs of which either the composer or the lyricist (or both) were women, including Kay Swift, Dorothy Fields, and Marilyn Bergman.

Although some of her patter was devoted to the history of these groundbreaking women, Luker made a far more effective feminist statement by using their songs to tell her own personal story. A Southern woman married to a Jewish man (actor Danny Burstein), Luker firmly established her Alabama roots with "Lovely Lies" by Jeff Blumenkrantz and Beth Blatt. This story song about a young woman from the South having a difficult heart-to-heart talk with her mom was one of the highlights of the evening, not only because the piece is so insightful but also because Luker acted it so exquisitely.

Most of the time, however, her acting chops played second fiddle to her remarkably beautiful voice. A creamy soprano with a round, full sound, Luker doesn't know the meaning of the word "shrill." In her renditions of two gorgeous songs that she introduced when she created the role of Lily in The Secret Garden -- "Come to My Garden" and "How Could I Know?" -- the ethereal beauty of her voice was simply breathtaking. Meanwhile, her sense of humor was displayed in "He Never Did That Before," by Debra Barsha and Mark Campbell, and "The Last Song," by Zina Goldrich and Marcy Heisler. Luker also did a great job with Goldrich and Heisler's far-from-funny ballad "Out of Love."

Because Luker is a musical theater star, we were a little worried when the show began and she stared at a fixed point above the heads of the audience throughout her opening number ("The Best is Yet to Come," lyrics by Carolyn Leigh, music by Cy Coleman). "Perhaps cabaret doesn't suit her," we thought. But, thereafter, she made full eye contact with patrons on all three sides of the Feinstein's stage and proved herself to be a warm, personable, and most welcome recruit to this intimate art form.

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[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegels@theatermania.com.]