Jomama Jones Reveals What's Hidden Right in Front of Us in Black Light
The cabaret and drag artist returns to Joe's Pub.
The tinkle of bells precedes the arrival of Jomama Jones at Joe's Pub. Her sequined backup singers enter ringing them, like postulant nuns heralding the approach of their mother superior. When she finally appears, she leads with a question: "What if I told you it's going to be alright?" We lean in, wanting to hear more, as she continues: "What if I told you not yet?" and "What if I told you that we won't all make it through?" This is a darker note, a sobering bit of reality delivered with an air of fantasy to frame a show that seamlessly merges both. In the darkness there is a light, and Jomama shines it for everyone to see in Black Light.
Jomama Jones is the nom de drag of Daniel Alexander Jones, the smart and sensitive cabaret artist who has astounded New York audiences for years, most recently in Soho Rep's Duat. The run of that show coincided with the run-up to the 2016 presidential election. Jomama returns to a changed country, but perhaps only superficially — and she has some pointed things to say about that. She also has some priceless words of wisdom to convey for a country that very much feels at a crossroads.
"Crossroads" is the title of one of the 12 intelligent and tuneful original songs (by Jones, Laura Jean Anderson, Bobby Halvorson, Dylan Meek, and Josh Quat) that make up Black Light. It is a pensive blues number that Jones delivers in the moonlight (gorgeously rendered by lighting designer Anai Parks). Jones sings, "We can't confront it / If we walk away / And we'll feel the pain / Either way." Rather than wallowing in the moment, Jones gently but insistently pushes us forward.
Jones bills the show as "a musical revival for turbulent times," but since this is the first time the show is being performed, it's not a "revival" in the sense most familiar to those of us who pray at the altar of musical theater. Rather, Jones takes us on a spiritual journey drawn from the Christian tradition, but tailored for the downtown audience. It's a pep rally for the soul, and Jomama Jones is winning new converts every night.
Songs about supernovas and seeds buttress funny and heartbreaking stories of Jones's southern Aunt Cleotha and a favorite science teacher. Jones has a talent for connecting the personal with the galactic, forcing us to step back and view everything that is happening in the world with perspective.
All of this is delivered with the kind of irreverence and joy that only great drag can achieve. That time-honored tradition quite literally shines through in Oana Botez's extravagantly spangled costumes, which Jones changes in and out of with the efficiency of a Las Vegas showgirl.
A powerhouse four-person band provides robust accompaniment (music direction by Samora Abayomi Pinderhughes). Jones's two backup singers bring distinct personalities to the stage, but blend them into a coherent whole just as they blend their soulful vocals. Trevor Bachman introduces himself to every audience member with his flirty eyes, while Vuyo Sotashe's Cheshire grin lets us know that this cat knows a secret or two. Their space-age falsetto really makes it feel like Jones and her band are visitors from the future, assuring us that one will indeed exist.
An evening with Jomama Jones has the same rejuvenating effect as a day off from work that you spend wrapped in a blanket watching your favorite movie. She doesn't knock us out of our malaise with delusional optimism, but quiet persistence and a belief in the fortitude of the human spirit. She knows that in order to pass into the future, we have to give something up. Black Light asks us to consider what that might be, and that makes it a vital show for our times.