Holiday Shows in New York

January 1, 2014 Updated: January 1, 2014

When I entered the 59 East 59th Street Theater to catch Barb Jungr’s Christmas eve show, “Dancing in the Dark,” I felt as if I had crashed a private party. I was apparently one of the few audience members who had never seen her perform before.  I was already an admirer of her work because I have some of her CDs, but as I was to discover, there is nothing like seeing her in person. She was accompanied by a superb pianist Tracy Stark, who sometimes joined in on vocals.

Jungr is a British cabaret singer, but a singular kind. While many perform what is known as the Great American Songbook (which generally covers songs from the 1920’s to the 1950’s), Jungr concentrates on songs from the 1960’s and afterward. She makes a convincing case for the excellence of the music of this era. In fact, she has made two notable CDs of songs by Bob Dylan, who remains one of her favorites. She also told a funny story about going to one of his recent concerts, mimicking his speaking (or mumbling) voice and then explaining how he mangled his own lyrics to “Tangled up in Blue.” She then performed the song in a more personal and expressive way than the songwriter ever could.

It’s a sign of the direction Jungr was headed in that the title of the show “Dancing in the Dark” doesn’t refer to the evergreen by Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz but to the more recent song with the same title by Bruce Springsteen. Her body language is as expressive as her voice and she gives meaning to every word on songs you might have heard many times but never thought about. She digs into thoughtful and rather bitter pieces like Leonard Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” but also makes Todd Rundgren’s “The Light in Your Eyes” sound hopelessly romantic. She has stories to tell, sparked with personal recollections about the artists, their ex-girlfriends and stalkers, often emanating from her early days working in a boutique hotel. In light of her repertoire choices, it was a bit of a surprise that she launched into a fond appreciation for crooners, especially Andy Williams, and performed a happy sing-along of his hit, “Can’t Get Used to Losing You.” Because it was Christmas eve, she ended the show with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” proving that she is just as impressive in older pop material.

Jungr’s week-long appearance at 59 East 59 Street Theater is over but the next time she appears, I plan to be one of her returning loyal audience members.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is also back in town and the company is as wonderful as ever. The evening opened with Paul Taylor’s “Arden Court,” set to music by baroque composer William Boyce. The work deals with relationships, sometimes with comedy and often just high energy.

Artistic director Robert Battle’s “In/Side is something completely different, a solo work depicting a soul in pain. The music is Nina Simone’s dramatic recording of “Wild is the Wind” by Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington, written for the 1957 film of the same name. Simone sings to her own virtuosic piano accompaniment. The movements of “In/Side” don’t seek to present a visual version of the song lyrics. Rather, the music is used to set the mood of despair. Jamar Roberts was memorable as the troubled soul.  

Ulysses Dove’s ”Episodes” is set to music by Robert Ruggieri and restaged by Masazumi Chaya. Unlike the preceding dance, this one depicts the alternating struggle and attraction between the sexes.

The concluding piece on the program was Alvin Ailey’s masterpiece, “Revelations.” The work is based on his “blood memories” of life in the south under segregation. (Ailey died in 1989 at age 58.). He recreated in the piece the south of his childhood, from the oppression of slavery and segregation (performed to the spiritual “I’ve been ‘buked and I’ve been scorned” to the sanctuary of the black church. I have seen the work a number of times but it is still overpowering.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater continues through Jan. 5 at City Center, 131 West 55th Street, Manhattan; 212-581-1212, nycitycenter.org.

I spent New Year’s eve, as I have many times in the past, at the performance by the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players at Symphony Space. The company, founded by Albert Bergeret, who is artistic director, conductor and whatever else is needed. During the intermission at “Pirates of Penzance,” he was moving some heavy scenery. These productions are perfect family entertainment, with colorful sets, costumes, a full orchestra, and laughs from the script and the direction. They don’t tinker with the time period other than to work in a couple of jokes about the Department of Homeland Security and a brief take-off on “A Chorus Line.”  

The cast was winning. James Mills as Major-General Stanley delivered the patter song “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General” as a race with the orchestra and he won. David Wannen was a very funny Pirate King, Angela Christine Smith was cute as Ruth (who tries to trick her ward Frederic into marriage), Carter Lynch as Frederic (the pirate apprentice) is a graceful lyric tenor and Sarah Caldwell Smith as Mabel (Frederic’s love interest) has a lustrous soprano that soared over the orchestra.  “The Pirates of Penzance” has ended its current run, but “Patience” is running through Jan. 5th. For tickets, call 212-864-5400 or go online to www.ngasp.org.

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