The cabaret entertainer Mad Jenny comes across as an intelligent, serious performer who can blend comedy into topicality. She has opened a regular monthly gig at the East Village suppr club Pangea, where her “Weimar Cabaret” show will be performed on Mondays, April 4, May 2, and June 6, all at 7 p.m. I caught Mad Jenny on her opening night, March 7 (2016).
An attractive woman, Mad Jenny sings in German a good part of the performance (English translations, of course), a language she picked up when living and traveling in Germany (she comes from New York) and it suits her well when plunging into numbers from the Weimar era.
She opens with the cynical “Life's a Swindle,” emanating from 1931 Berlin. Some of her material is by Hanns Eisler and Betolt Brecht, as with “There’s Nothing Quite Like Money” and their very bitter “Abortion is Illegal.” A defiantly amusing song, with music by Friedrich Hollaender and lyrics by Claire Waldoff, with English lyrics by Jeremy Lawrence, is “Chuck All the Men,” dating to 1926 Berlin.
Mad Jenny can get very serious too, with numbers recalling the Nazi period and the infamous Terezin concentration camp. She is assisted throughout by Maria Dessena on piano, who is also credited with arrangements. Dessena has an accordion solo too, and the other skillful musicians are Ric Becker on trombone and Jerry DeVore on bass.
An offbeat part of the program is the appearance of Miss Exaterina, an exotic dancer who parades around the room scantily clad with pasties covering her nipples. It seems an unnecessary diversion from the substance of what Mad Jenny is presenting, although it may be meant to evoke Weimar cabaret decadence.
Jenny takes time for costume changes, a mistake, since it interrupts the mood she establishes. One easy costume change is done on stage as she strips away some of what she is wearing to reveal partly a red outfit, and partly the remains of her tuxedo, aiding her in contortions to resemble a couple embracing and dancing, a clichéd shtick.
Mad Jenny’s strength, in addition to her voice, striking looks, likability and her acting and directing experience, is her take on an era and beyond and the smarts with which she approaches her varied material. But her show, somewhat overlong, would benefit from tightening and keeping the focus on herself and her songs without extraneous detractions. At Pangea, 178 Second Avenue (between 1lth and 12th Streets). Phone: 212-995-0900. Reviewed March 9, 2016.