Finding the Drama in the Boss and Dylan
Barb Jungr’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ Combines Rock and Cabaret
December 25, 2013
With her north England accent and jolly music hall sense of fun, Ms. Jungr, who opened her new show, “Dancing in the Dark,” at 59E59 Theaters on Sunday evening, would seem to be one of least likely singers to excavate and tear open the songs of Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan, to name three of many songwriters whose work she explored at Sunday’s opening-night performance. The only word to describe her dramatic interpretations of “Dancing in the Dark,” “Everybody Knows” and “Tangled Up in Blue” is revelatory. Throughout much of the evening, I was open mouthed with astonishment.
The show, in which Ms. Jungr is accompanied on piano by Tracy Stark, who sings vocal harmony, presents mostly familiar modern standards in bare-bones arrangements. Every song becomes a platform for a dramatic monologue that Ms. Jungr invests with a personal immediacy of someone living in the moment of the song, regardless of the narrator’s sex and age.
A prime example is her take on Mr. Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.” Without the glossy camouflage of the record’s arrangement, the exhausting treadmill existence of its working-class narrator who frets that life is passing him by comes into acute focus. Ms. Jungr makes you feel the despair of a man “livin’ in a dump” and “starving” for a “love reaction.”
That song and Mr. Cohen’s “Everybody Knows” delivered a tone of jaunty sarcasm that define the theme of a mostly downbeat show whose underlying melancholy is contradicted by Ms. Jungr’s enthusiasm. A natural storyteller whose patter revolves around her teenage years in Stockport, outside Manchester, Ms. Jungr is the grown-up equivalent of the gifted reader of literature to children that you never forget because it is infused with excitement and the thrill of discovery.
Songs are revealingly paired: “Help Me Make it Through the Night” with “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” and “Can’t Get Used to Losing You” (an audience singalong) with “Red, Red Wine.” The performance, which incorporated a full repertoire of body language, crested with a version of Dylan’s “Tangled Up in the Blue,” in which the itinerant narrator’s entire life passed before your eyes.