Volume 75, Number 31 | December 21 - 27, 2005

Grown-up Dexter: Oh, Baby!

By Jerry Tallmer

When Baby Jane Dexter was 15 years old, her dermatologist father removed some warts from the fingers of a drummer. The doctor got talking about his aspiring singer daughter, and the grateful drummer arranged for her to take part in an upcoming gig at an Italian restaurant in East Islip, Long Island.

Baby Jane schlepped out there on the LIRR. Reliving it now, she borrows a napkin, dabs her brow.

“The next thing I know, I’m opening for Brigita the stripper. This was a long time before they had poles. Brigita goes all around the room doing her removal thing, and when she’s down to her pasties and sugar-cone G-string, she gets up on this chair, whips off the G-string … and an exploding rubber bat jumps out—while I’m there in a plaid jumper, singing ‘What Kind of Fool Am I?’ ”

At Helen’s Hideaway Room, next door to the Joyce Theater in Chelsea, it is no kind of fool who is informing us, warm and strong, these weekends, “I’m a full-grown woman.” She sure is, Baby Jane, and has been ever since the Reno Sweeney days of yore.

“He likes a good-looking woman with some meat on her bones” she blasts out with post-girlish, soulful enthusiasm. And there undeniably is some meat on them there bones. “I’m a woman hard to handle,” she cries.

Throw it away, she sings, throw it away. Love, she means. “Luh-huv.” Two syllables, four beats. “You can’t lose it if you throw it all away.” Abbey Lincoln’s great song, a center to many of Baby Jane’s — BJ’s — cabaret collages. Less will be more. “Love is an EEE-motion, moving you to do things. Throw it away … ”

Feel your way in, slow, thoughtful, reserved, deep down in the well, savor it, nurse it, don’t devour it … and then … “I would lie, cheat, beg, borrow, STEAL for you, lay down and DIE for you” – bang! up from the belly, the loins, an explosion that sets a listener’s blood racing free.

It is her m.o., and ours along with it.

This is BJ’s return show from points as far off as Alaska and Mexico, her holiday show, though she’s not particularly fond of Christmas. It reminds her of when she was a girl singing “Good King Wenceslas” and getting the Baby Jesus all mixed up with Senor Wences, the puppetmaster on the Ed Sullivan program every Sunday.

Regret is in fact the theme, the keynote, of everything here. Regret, recuperation, realization, joy, carried along – buoyed up – by the piano and musical direction of Ross Patterson, now in its 15th year — “the longest relationship I ever had with a guy.”

Even longer is her debt, and the debt of all the rest of us, to the woman she had stand up for a moment on opening night: the cabaret world’s great Julie Wilson. “Whatever I do, she has done,” said Baby Jane, closing with “You’ve gotta hurt before you heal.” An hour with Baby Jane Dexter at Helen’s Hideaway is hurt and healing wrapped in one.

Baby Jane Dexter performs her new show, “Time Travel,” through January 28th at The Hideaway Room @ Helen’s, 169 Eighth Avenue at 19th St., Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20 music and there is a $15 food/drink minimum. For reservations call 212-206-0609.

Photo by Stephen Mosher

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