Fucking brilliant! Magnificent! Girl got chops! And those are just the reviews diva Jenifer Lewis claims to have received from Lena Horne, Sidney Poitier and Aretha Franklin. Being the modest soul she is, Lewis doesn’t contradict them – and neither will I! As I’ve been reporting, the recently opened 54 Below has had a steady stream of legendary cabaret acts from downtown “superstars” and Broadway veterans, and Lewis’s may just be the hottest one yet.
When I say that Jenifer Lewis is modest, I am being incredibly facetious – she opens the act with a roaring number titled “Look at Me” and only gets bigger from there. That opening number, like several others throughout the act, was written by Hairspray and “Smash” composer Marc Shaiman, who is also at the piano (and is also in the middle of writing songs for the second season of “Smash” – where does he find the time)!
Lewis has been away from the New York cabaret scene for over 20 years, but you wouldn’t know it from this hilarious and pyrotechnic act. Lewis bravely talks about her past struggles with bipolar disorder, to the tune of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy”, and also spends a fair amount of time just basking in the pure joys of being a singing sensation, in Shaiman-penned tunes such as “Sang Bitch” and “The 11 O’Clock Number”.
But the songs are almost secondary to her fire-breathing, thrillingly spontaneous patter. Lewis is a diva and a half, a force of nature, with an enormous, booming voice, and a wicked, almost terrifying sense of humor. She’s also capable of burrowing into a ballad – I’ve never heard anyone tell the story of cabaret standard “Here’s to Life” with such touching clarity. Jenifer’s back! And not to be missed!
For tickets, click here.
For more reviews and interviews by Jonathan Warman, see his blog Drama Queen.