Volume 74, Number 54 | May 18 - 24 , 2005

Ross Patterson at the piano
Helen’s Hideaway Room
169 Eighth Ave. at 19th St.
Thu.-Sat. 9:15 p.m.
Through May
$25, with $15 food/drink minimum; 212-206-0609

The tender side of night

Baby Jane Dexter shows her softer, gentler side at Helen’s Hideaway

By Jerry Tallmer

And the lioness shall lie down with the lamb. Baby Jane Dexter, the downtown diva, has always been a great many of God’s creatures wrapped into one, but in her current show at Helen’s, just to the left of the Joyce Theater, on Eighth Avenue between 18th and 19th Streets, the roaring, stomping lioness is playing peekaboo, popping in, popping out, but mostly letting that other side of BJ take over—the thoughtful, sensitive, aching, probing investigator of emotional loss and gain.

Even her great flaming mane has been tamed, transformed, into a long, gleaming, lovely pony tail, as if by the magic of some Jean Cocteau “belle et bete” hairdresser.

Don’t look for that frightening, disturbing “15 Ugly Minutes on the Bottom of the Floor,” her long-ago personal memoir of an even longer-ago rape. Just delight in the segue from a gutbucket Sophie Tucker/Texas Guinan “Some of These Days” (“Did you leave me? It will grieeeeeve me.”) to the dark brooding honey-smooth flow of “I Concentrate on You,” Cole Porter’s hunger a la Dexter.

Or a seesaw jaunt from a Gershwins’ classic, “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” to Hoagy Carmichael’s down-home “Bread and Gravy” rendered by the lioness side of BJ so as to restore real meaning to the words “rock” and “roll.”

Don’t think for a minute she’s lost her sense of humor, the offbeat, unpredictable stuff that is pure Baby Jane, like her tale of finding behind the piano in her apartment—which has had so many paint jobs, it’s getting smaller—a 10-year-old sackful of yellow crime-scene police tape. Why? Who knows?

Speaking of pianos, Dexter gives Ross Patterson, her music director these past 14 years, every possible opportunity to go crazy on the keys. They are a remarkable pair. And lioness or lamb, Baby Jane Dexter is one of a kind—a force of nature for fury or for reflective calm. She will be at Helen’s—formerly Judy’s—through May 28, and the gig is now also available as a “Bread & Gravy” CD.

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