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BWW Reviews: Britain's BARB JUNGR Galvanizes 54 Below With Eclectic Set Ranging from Jacques Brel to the Bee Gees

"Mad About the Boy?!" The rabble-rousing thespian with get down dance moves, and elastic, back-trilled voice is going to sing Noel Coward? At 54 Below? Mea Culpa. Britain's Barb Jungr performs one of the most truthful renditions of the song perhaps any Coward purist has heard. Sure, it's prefaced by a sharp comic turn on aging, but the moment Jungr begins to confess, she's proud, eager, and though gimlet-eyed, ready to risk it all. " . . . Misery and joy, misery and joy, misery and joy," she repeats weighing probabilities in one hand, then the other. A muted, wah-wah scat sustains focus in tandem with Tracy Stark's age inappropriate, sashaying piano.

The artist tells us she's not about to go into 2015 without having aired her grievances. Aging is a tricky one. With only Joan Collins a role model in Britain, Jungr's moral code is not to sleep with anyone to whom she could've given birth. Another major pet peeve is the way men treat women.

Only Barb Jungr could make a torch song out of The Bee Gees' (Gibb Brothers) "Woman in Love." Even at the level of a stage whisper, the lyric is detonated. Open throttle, it's ballistic. With exceptional judgment about her material, Jungr may send us reeling, but never oversells.

Hank Williams' "Your (Expletive) Cheating Heart" is rockabilly with a side of blues. Unusually still, Jungr gleefully lights into the guy. By the time she gets to YOU WILL WALK THE FLOOR THE WAY I DO, blunt phrases draw blood. Stark cuts loose on chords, percussionist Mike Lunoe plays the wooden box on which he sits. Jungr's soprano loop-dee-loop ends the number with a flourish. I can almost hear the door slam.

Deploying a rebuttal to Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady, Lay," Jungr has us in stitches with silent movie facial expressions and interjected comments. "Who calls somebody a lady?! Stay with your man awhile?! You'd be lookin' in your bag for taxi fare!" We laugh, but somewhere along the way realization hits: The vocal itself remains pristine. Her grainy contralto variations sound like a bow drawn across a rainbow. The last verse is serious, the final note hushed baritone.

Range is a constant surprise. Jungr's own composition, the heady "Tears in a Bottle" ("Will Never Turn to Wine") has her dancing like nobody's business while Jacques Brel's tempestuous "Marieke," sees the vocalist cave like a sail in the wind. Angry and raw she cries out to an unyielding sea. It's thrilling.

Two songs entitled "No Regrets" include a bittersweet memory by Tom Rush and the achingly personal anthem made famous by Edith Piaf. Striding across the stage, unabashedly looking in the eyes of her audience, Jungr puts it all on the line.

We end with a rousing, gospel "Take Me to the River" accompanied, in part, by Jungr's terrific mouth organ. Eyes blaze, nostrils flare, hands clap. This is one charismatic broad. "Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey," she sings, each to a different part of the crowd, dancing off the stage arms raised. The room goes wild, itching to follow. Both Tracy Stark (piano) and Mike Lunoe (percussion), whose considerable talent extends to a djembe and other ethnic instruments, aid and abet with full-blooded brio.

Barb Jungr is one of a kind. May she continue to upend expectations. Wowza.

54 Below--
Saturday January 3, Sunday January 4, 2015, both at 7pm

Note: Read Stephen Hanks' recent interview with Barb Jungr on the eve of her current 54 Below show here.

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