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The Seth Concert Series – Rachel Bay Jones | Review

Rachel Bay Jones - Credit Susan Stripling
Rachel Bay Jones – Credit Susan Stripling

There’s a cheery disposition in Rachel Bay Jones that is so reassuring at a time of huge uncertainty. It has been, she estimates, six months since she has sung anything at all, which only highlights how different people who previously trod the boards have reacted differently to The Great Shutdown.

Whilst some have sung in the shower, or sang their way through shifts in a Sainsbury’s supermarket or an Amazon warehouse, or even been in Zoom meetings with other actors to catch up and sing together, for others, it’s been a case of ‘no stage, no singing’.

Describing herself as a “screw-up teenager”, although her most prominent roles to date have been in musical theatre, she started her theatrical career in plays. Her grandmother had gone as far as to sell her engagement ring to raise funds so Jones could move to New York City without having to take on part-time jobs on top of her theatre work. At the age of 19, Jones made her Broadway debut in a production of Meet Me in St Louis, although the person she was understudying was never indisposed during the run. It would be another two decades before she would return to the Great White Way.

The concert was heavy on musical theatre, which is only, I suppose, to be expected. The opening number, ‘Blue Bayou’, written by Roy Orbison and Joe Melson, had no direct connection to a musical, and neither does ‘American Tune’ by Paul Simon, whilst the closing number, ‘Runnin’ Home To You’, by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, was (as I understand it) originally written for television. Pasek and Paul are, of course, the composers and lyricists of Dear Evan Hansen, whose Broadway production had Jones originating the role of Heidi, and naturally, she spoke at length about the development process and how she still drew from her experiences in learning what were to become deleted scenes to bring the character of Evan’s mother to life eight times a week.

The kind of insights and anecdotes that concerts of this nature bring out are often extraordinary, and this edition of The Seth Concert Series was no exception. I found a production of Evita that Jones was in fascinating for having as many English language performances during the run-in Florida as there were Spanish language performances, an interesting proposition to say the least, given that Jones is far from fluent in Spanish.

With the benefit of hindsight, she is able to laugh at what transpired, but it must have been mind-boggling at the time, given that the Spanish version wasn’t a direct translation of the ‘original’ English libretto, such that the portrayal of Jones’ Eva Peron also ended up being quite different depending on which language the show was being performed in. A verse of ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ in Spanish wasn’t enough, however, as the audience was also treated to a couple of lines of ‘Seasons of Love’ from Rent in German, as she had agreed to step in to help an international touring production.

In a production of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, she was the understudy to Patti LuPone. Jones had been told, though interestingly not by LuPone directly, that LuPone was not to be looked at directly during on-stage rehearsals, otherwise, there would be severe repercussions. It’s possible that someone was winding Jones up: LuPone was not only very civilised but generous, welcoming Jones into her dressing room and warmly suggesting they go through the show together.

And then there was the Broadway revival of Hair, which saw Jones join the replacement cast (after much of the original cast relocated to London for a West End revival at the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue). There was a Broadway revival of Pippin that Jones was in, and a short run of Next to Normal at the Kennedy Center, the last show before Covid closures swept the world. And so on and so forth. It’s remarkable how much ground was covered in a show without an interval. A perfect evening in practically every way.

5 Star Rating

Review by Chris Omaweng

LISTING:
Mark Cortale Presents
THE SETH CONCERT SERIES

RACHEL BAY JONES with SETH RUDETSKY
Sunday, August 23rd at 8PM EST
Monday, August 24th at 3PM EST

SIERRA BOGGESS with SETH RUDETSKY
Sunday, August 30th at 8PM EST
Monday, August 31st at 3PM EST

KAREN OLIVO with SETH RUDETSKY
Sunday, September 6th at 8PM EST
Monday, September 7th at 3PM EST

JEREMY JORDAN with SETH RUDETSKY
Sunday, September 13th at 8PM EST
Monday, September 14th at 3PM EST

All tickets available at www.thesethconcertseries.com

Anybody Have a Map?
Rachel Bay Jones & Jennifer Laura Thompson

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