Amy Jo Jackson raises the bar with THE BRASS MENAGERIE to 54 below
“We’ve had this date from the start.” That was me, as the 54 Below announcer kicked off THE BRASS MENAGERIE, Amy Jo Jackson’s award-winning cabaret piece that has taken Manhattan by storm in recent years. This most original and compelling play was first reviewed by Broadway World Cabaret in 2020 (read Bobby Patrick’s article HERE) and the only reason Bobby got the sweet gig is because this Tennessee Williams devotee wasn’t free to leave, but as I edited the article, I cringed in jealousy. As more and more cabaret-goers attended shows for which I was unavailable, reports continued to circulate about the quality of the show. Then the Bistro Awards committee gave the show an award for excellence in the art form of cabaret, and it turned out that I was the only person in New York who hadn’t seen the groundbreaking performance.
This time is no more.
It’s always exciting to see an artist unlike any other, because originality is the only commodity each of us has in life. This is especially true in the arts, especially in the performing arts. The world reveres the original. But when a person who is an original takes that unique quality that is most authentically themselves and uses it to create something completely different, it is a sign of greatness. Amy Jo Jackson, as seen in a variety of group shows in any given cabaret season, is an original, but their musical cabaret THE BRASS MENAGERIE is that rare thing artists dream of creating: novelty. Like Picasso or Chanel, Munro or Mozart revolutionized the fields in which they created, Jackson created something completely new and uniquely his own. Combining their passion for legitimate theatre, their dedication to the music scene, their obsession with a playwright and their dedication to the art form of cabaret, Amy Jo Jackson has developed a program that explores all plays and (mostly) heroines by Tennessee Williams. , through only its dialogue, the compositions of (mostly) musical theater composers, and all the magic inside their wonderland of a mind. And what’s left for the audience is one jaw-dropping, jaw-dropping, jaw-dropping gay moment after another.
Alongside musical director Brian Nash (who is truly one of the best in the business, as this Olympic cabaret event demonstrates), Jackson acts as emcee, instructor and actor, delivering a veritable tour de force. – indeed, it’s the kind of performance for which the term Tour-de-Force was coined. There are segments of THE BRASS MENAGERIE focusing on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (it’s more than brilliant), Sweet Bird of Youth (very creative), The Rose Tattoo (hilarious), Suddenly Last Summer (blistering) and The Glass Menagerie (epic), all of which evoke the tragedy of Tennessee, employing copious amounts of jaw-dropping comedy, as well as terrific voice acting, using the works of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Ahrens & Flaherty, Stephen Sondheim and other Broadway legends, though going into detail would require a major spoiler alert for future audiences, and that wouldn’t be fair. Indeed, future patrons of The Brass Menagerie would be strongly advised not to do any research, to read no further than this article, which will remain spoiler-free until the end. Playing Amy Jo Jackson’s ingenious parody in real time will ensure the authenticity of the laughter created from the outside and enjoyed from the inside. And before anyone realizes that Tennessee Williams and Stephen Sondheim are buying one person eighty minutes of camping, let this writer assure everyone that YES, there’s a lot of camp on this show (that’s sort of integrated, de rigueur, if you will)… but it’s also incredibly touching at times. The Streetcar Named Desire segment is utterly gorgeous and charming (and for those familiar with the history of The Great American Songbook, a delivery on an expected promise, walking through the door), and this writer’s personal favorite all evening was a devastating presentation based on Summer and Smoke. Although some audience members began Alma’s monologue from the play that later became Eccentricities of a Nightingale with cackles of laughter, the laughter gave way to sentimental sniffles and wondering silence.
Even with all the ardor felt in every moment of the play (magnificently directed by Andrew Neisler), and even with the explorations of Blanche Dubois and Alma Winemiller resounding with the greatest ardor in this heart, nothing prepared this writer at the end of BRASS MENAGERIE, which, if there is justice in the world, will never land on YouTube. This moment alone is worth the trip and the price of the ticket. This number alone is worth all the awards and accolades. This performance alone is worth raising your hand, pointing and saying, “This woman is special. This piece is ingenious. This experience is what a quality cabaret can be, in the hands of an artist.
Dear reader, take my advice and don’t wait too long like I did. Upgrade your Tennessee Williams and head to the next performance of THE BRASS MENAGERIE and find out what it’s all about. Trust me when I say you can always count on the kindness of Amy Jo Jackson to give you a truly unforgettable evening.
Find great shows to see on the 54 Below website HERE.
THIS is Amy Jo Jackson’s website.
Photos by Stephen Mosher; Visit Stephen Mosher’s website https://stephenmosher.com/ICI.
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