So where does she go from here? With three well-attended shows at Don’t Tell Mama, effervescent Janet Jacobs has resoundingly demonstrated that it isn’t too late to rediscover and renew the talent she had for singing when she was young but gave up on pursuing a show business career. It was exciting to attend her performance on June 30, 2010, and savor the stuff she still has to offer in her cabaret act rightly called “A Life Well Sung.” Jacobs was inspired to put it together after a friend gave her a gift of a cabaret class at the 92nd Street Y. The result is a worthy foray into her life story, engagingly told and illustrated with a broad array of numbers that hold special meaning for her.
Jacobs makes no bones about her age, possibly because she doesn’t look anywhere near having celebrated her 80th birthday. It is a good publicity hook, as demonstrated by a very upbeat NBC interview that aired and is also on line, and an article on the Huffington Post website. But she really doesn’t need the angle. She commands the stage in her own right with a winsome personality and the sincerity and feeling with which she interprets the lyrics of her well-chosen numbers. From the minute she opened with “I Feel a Song Comin’ On,” she commanded audience attention.
Now that she has proved she can do it, the challenge is to get further bookings. She is in a special situation. Unlike older singers who have had full careers and are still at it, along comes Jacobs as a new entity waiting to be discovered. It is a pity that she didn’t have a show business career early on. But then, as her scanning of her life experiences reveals, she has had an otherwise rich run, including ups and downs (she lost a lover in a plane crash), assorted careers that included hat modeling, a daughter, Linda, who affectionately sings a number with her, and her 27-year happy marriage that makes up for previous failed marriages—all talked about in the show with informative and often amusing anecdotes. And Jacobs displays a pleasing sense of humor about herself.
The trajectory of songs chosen fits her theme. Skillfully accompanied on piano by Norma Jeanne Curley, Jacobs goes back in time to saucily imitate “Wee” Bonnie Baker singing “Oh Johnny.” She recalls World War II feelings with a poignant interpretation of “Something to Remember Me By.” Likewise with “The White Cliffs of Dover.” Her rendition of “Born in a Trunk” mirrors her show business longings, recounted in her stories of auditions and almosts.
She has fun sassily singing “The Saga of Jenny,” and she goes hillbilly with family inbreeding in the hilarious “Uncle Fud,” a song associated with the late Dorothy Shay, known as “The Park Avenue Hillbilly.” Other songs in Jacobs’s repertoire include “Hello Young Lovers” and “Last Night When We Were Young.” Fittingly, in an obvious nod to her husband Ted Fine, whom she met sitting next to him on a plane, Jacobs injects an especially happy feeling in singing “Just in Time.” One might apply the same song link to her having the courage to construct her cabaret show at this stage of the game. Reviewed at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46th Street. Phone: 212-757-0788 .