Reviewed by Joe Regan, Jr.
November 27, 2012
Jonathan Whitton, who in 2008 won both the MAC and Bistro Awards for his debut show, has returned to cabaret with his first solo show since then entitled The Free Residency at Don’t Tell Mama. November 27 was his third show and the word had gone out because the show was sold out. Aaron Jones was his extraordinarily gifted partner as music director and fellow performer. The two of them mesmerized the audience from the moment they entered from the back of the room, Jones playing acoustic guitar, and Whitton singing Amos Lee’s “Dreamin’.”
Center stage, Whitton explained the title of the show. It has to do with the meaning of “home,” but because he has been traveling a great deal across the country, he has come to realize that “home” often means a different city hotel room even though he grew up in South Carolina. He also defined New York City as the home where he celebrates his greatest freedom to be himself. He illustrated vividly what he meant with an eclectic series of narrative songs, all delivered with superior acting skills and a voice that effortlessly slid from deep low notes to amazing crescendos often without any breaks for breaths. The timber of his vocal instrument is beautiful and even the few Great American Songbook songs revealed emotional depth and meaning of an emotional new life.
An early example of these revelations was a hypnotic version of John LaTouche/Jerome Moross’s “A Lazy Afternoon.” With brilliant guitar accompaniment by Jones, Whitton made the song so intimate you felt as if you were the person he was seducing, and yet he went from whisper to power, clearly enunciating some of the extraordinary lyric rhymes in the song, turning it into an extraordinary art song. Jonathan Whitton is a 21st Century troubadour because everything he sings is a revelation and can be very intimate in a sexual way. His minimal use of gestures, especially his hands, was perfect on this song and every song he sang. Before the audience could applaud “Lazy Afternoon,” after its instrumental break and his final stanzas, he and Jones melded right into two Britney Spears songs, “Gimme More” and “Toxic,” both direct in your face challenges, and then, suddenly, without stop, a sweet sexy “Lilac Wine” (James Shelton) again making it sound like a new song!
He and Jones resurrected the stunning Michael Callen song, “On the Other Side,” spellbinding the audience with anger and despair. Rufus Wainwright’s “Dinner At Eight” is done with Jones switching to the piano, demonstrating another of Jones’ major talent.
The other very well known song, made famous by Peggy Lee, is Mike Stoller & Jerry Leiber’s “Is That All This Is.” Whitton sings it with a sinister depth, an angry male youth singing about his life long disappointment with illusions and disappointment in love and his audience was shocked and laughed at this personal attack.
Whitton also exposed us to songs by Johnny Rodgers and Richard Barone, Chris Miller and Mark Campbell (a song about a one night stand,) John Vanderslice, Eddie Brickell and the New Bohemians, and Patty Griffin – each one a revelation for a contemporary cabaret act.
Kate McGarrigle’s “Saratoga Summer Song” is the final song and Whitten sings it without microphone. He proves that his voice doesn’t need it. Jonathan Whitton and Aaron Jones are a class act and should not be missed!
For more information and other future engagements go to www.jonwhitton.com
Jonathan Whitton’s The Free Residency with Aaron Jones repeats Monday, December 3 at 7:30 PM at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 West 46 Street. Reservations are strongly recommended. (212) 757-0788 www.donttellmamanyc.com