Jomama Jones (standing) with Bobby Halvorson,
Helga Davis, and Sonya Perryman in Radiate
(© Nisha Sondhe)
Jomama Jones (standing) with Bobby Halvorson,
Helga Davis, and Sonya Perryman in Radiate
(© Nisha Sondhe)
Jomama Jones: Radiate, now being presented by Soho Rep, may well be the feel good show of the year for the downtown crowd. From the moment that Jomama (Daniel Alexander Jones) takes the stage with The Sweet Peaches (Helga Davis and Sonya Perryman) -- the show is structured as a reunion concert for a fictional soul superstar -- there's an undeniable lightness in the air.

The show alternates between Jomama performing with the Peaches and a five-piece band and chatting with the audience cabaret style about her life, career, and why she decided to leave the country and raise goats in Sweden. During her time abroad, she realizes she needs to come back and connect with her fellow New Yorkers. As the audience, we know somewhere in the back of our collective head that this is just make believe, but the story and the performance feels very real.

The music, composed by Jones and bandleader Daniel Halvorson, is occasionally reminiscent of Dreamgirls, but it owes more to the great divas of soul than to Broadway. "The Green One" is a rousing anthem of self-actualization that impressively avoids becoming overly sentimental. In the core of the song, Jones sings: "where there is one / there are many / where there are many / there are few / few who choose to see / all that may be / you are one." It's a simple refrain that wraps around itself, capturing the heart of the show along with a certain intangible ambition.

"Show Pony" divides men into three categories: workhorse, racehorse, and show pony. Jones even picks men out of the audience to represent each type and illustrate that you shouldn't "put no show pony / on the workhorse job." It might have come off as crass if the metaphor had been more obvious or delivered with less compassion, but Jones strikes the right balances and scores a big laugh at no one's expense.

Audience participation can often feel like an unreasonable demand, but Radiate shows that it doesn't have to be. Possibly the most moving moment of the show comes towards the end when Jones asks everyone to look at a stranger in the audience. Once our eyes are focused, she then asks us to make a wish for them. It's a simple yet exhilarating moment that heightens a sense of community that grows throughout the evening of this impressive new work.