Baby Jane Dexter | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Baby Jane Dexter

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In her first Chicago engagement in two years, New York cabaret artist Baby Jane Dexter ranges from rock songs to standards, relying more on familiar fare than she has in the past. Her new show, Another Spring (Then and Now), includes the Blood, Sweat & Tears hit "Spinning Wheel," the Beatles' "Got to Get You Into My Life," Cole Porter's "Night and Day," and a version of the Sammy Cahn gem "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" that probes the tune's turbulent subtext of obsession. Dexter reinvents all her selections to suit her deep, husky voice--her blues-rock inflections recall singers like Etta James, Janis Joplin, Bonnie Bramlett, and Judy Henske--and to reflect the theme of emotional death and rebirth that marks her work. A rising star in the early 70s (and one of the first performers at the influential Greenwich Village nightclub Reno Sweeney), Dexter dropped out of sight in the 80s; after a troubled marriage and a struggle with depression, she reemerged in 1991 at the urging of film historian Vito Russo shortly before he died of AIDS. Over the past decade she's balanced her career as a performer with work as a counselor and teacher for at-risk youth, spreading a gospel of healing through self-expression--though there's nothing preachy or sentimental about her raw vocal style and bawdy comic streak. But where some cabaret performers adopt different characters from song to song, Dexter sings straight from her vulnerable core; it's the source, paradoxically, of her volcanic power. She'll be accompanied by two of Chicago's finest pianists, George Howe (on Wednesday and Thursday) and Beckie Menzie (Friday through Sunday). Wednesday through next Saturday, November 12 through 15, 8 PM, and next Sunday, November 16, 7 PM, Davenport's Piano Bar & Cabaret, 1383 N. Milwaukee; 773-278-1830.

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