Jason Henderson at Don’t Tell Mama

 

 

The Lad From Upper Hutt Wows Uptown Manhattan with the Coward who Changed His Life

 

by Myra Chanin

 

Jason Henderson began his third performance of “Getting to Noel You,” at Don’t Tell Mama at 7:15 pm instead of the advertised 7 pm. Don’t tsk-tsk and gaze askance. He was there timely and ready to go. Who’s to blame? Jason’s fans, sprouting up like wine refilling Bacchus’s emptied pitcher. As each “last group” was seated, a fresh lot appeared at the velvet chord, making Mama’s minions move more tables and chairs into every available Brick Room nook and cranny.

Unlike the usual cabaret gathering of the greying and bald (and some with a smattering of both) Jason’s fans are young, peppy and happy—Millennials he’s met at his church, at work, after his open mike appearances at Jim Caruso’s Cast Party. He’s only been in the US for six months, an unknown on a study visa, but he attracts vastly more people to each of his packed club appearances than performers who’ve lived on 47th Street most of their lives do.

Making friends is Jason’s cup of tea. He’s polite, modest, mannerly, unassuming, unpretentious, charming, serious about his art as well as seriously talented. In addition, he’s smart, focused and has spent his time here wisely and well. First, at the St. Louis Cabaret Conference Master Classes with Marilyn Maye, Jeff Harner and Faith Prince, where he also heard Sidney Myer lecture, met pianists/arrangers Tedd Firth, Chris Denny and Barry Kleinbart now his music director and his show director respectively. He’s also recently completed the Summer School program at the Circle in the Square.

The lights dim. A spotlight shines on a slender, smiling, dapper young man wearing a trim dark suit, a starched white shirt and a perfectly tied plaid bowtie. He’s dressed like a well-established civil servant but moves like the world is his oyster. As for his head of thick, shiny, dark hair, several applauding seniors would pay through the nose to have those follicles transplanted on their pates.

The dark-framed glasses that hug his ordinary nose remind me of Russell Nype, the Tony-winner who sang “You’re Not Sick, You’re Just in Love,” with Ethel Merman’s Perle Mesta in Call Me Madam. He opens the show with the familiar, sentimental, lovely Coward ballad, “Someday I’ll Find You,” a song of hope. His voice is well-trained, he sings with sincerity and with a slight New Zealand accent that’s easy to understand.

 

 

Jason life was unlike Coward’s. Coward grew up in London in a musical family, made his professional stage début at the age of eleven and when he was in his teens was introduced into the high society in which most of his plays are set. By the time he was 20, Coward had written and starred in a full-length light comedy, I’ll Leave It to You, which was enthusiastically reviewed in The London Times, “A remarkable piece of work from so young a head—spontaneous, light, and always ‘brainy’.”

As for Jason, he did what was required, graduated from college, got a variety of steady office jobs “where everyone wanted desperately to be somewhere else, including the management,” he says. The young folks roar with laughter. They’ve been there, done that. Hasn’t everyone in the arts, at one time or another? Jason continues on with employment tribulations as the telephone receptionist who evaluated complaints. “Hello . . . Oh, how awful.” He was brilliant at offering commiseration and passing an unsolvable problem on to someone else who might or might not know how to solve it. He also worked at City Council, “where a bunch of people sat waiting around for lunch or tea, whichever was first.” As he grew office-job weary, he found his voice, earned a master’s degree in voice and began subsidizing his budding musical career with his earnings while saving enough to bankroll this trip to the US. He arrived six months ago to see what he could do . . . and he’s done plenty.

The audience loved Jason’s singing as well as his autobiographical notes. His 17-song list was an interesting Noel Coward assemblage: love songs like “I’ll See You Again;” cynical, sardonic, patter songs like “Why Do All The Wrong People Travel” and “I Went to a Marvelous Part;” boredom with life songs like “I’m World Weary,” and “If Love Were All.” I find Coward’s world-wearying dreary. As an optimist who loves the grey and brown city, the thought of wandering with four-legged beasts searching for four-leafed clovers, makes this two-legged beast want to slit her throat.

I also wondered why Coward’s least slick and most honest song—“Mad About the Boy”—was not included.

I was very impressed with Jason singing, performing, story-telling and with his connection with the audience. They loved him and loved him singing and talking about Noel Coward. And there’s plenty to love. Coward composed memorable, sprightly melodies and was a genius at rhyming. But when I read his lyrics I can rarely fathom what he is saying, or, if it’s worth saying in the first place.

Jason Henderson obviously belongs on the Don’t Tell Mama list of performers who arrived there as unknowns and left as artists. Many, including me, looked forward to seeing again. I certainly would not let Noel Coward’s superficiality stand between me and Jason Henderson talent if and when I can see him again.

 

Jason Henderson performed June 20 at Don’t Tell Mama (343 West 46th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenues). www.donttellmamanyc.com

 

Headshot Photo by Van Craig, Performance Photo by Alvin Chanin

 

 

 

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