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Theatre in Review: Jeremy Jordan: Carry On (54 Premieres)

Jeremy Jordan. Photo: Courtesy of BFV Marketing

For this streamed concert, Jeremy Jordan arrives at the nightclub Feinstein's/54 Below dragging his baggage, and I'm not kidding. It's in the form of a rollerboard filled with objects from his past; each is a talisman and a song cue. Carry On, which premiered at the club in February 2020, is centered about the birth of his daughter, Clara, with his wife, the actress Ashley Spencer. To complete the metaphor, Jordan kicks off the show with the title number, written by him; based on the evidence of it, should his work in musical theatre and television ever pall, songwriting beckons as a second career.

Rummaging through his suitcase onstage, Jordan explains that the experience of fatherhood has triggered a flood of memories from his past -- which, to put it mildly, had plenty of ups and downs. Indeed, Carry On is best described as a confessional cabaret, a soul-baring experience with matching tunes. Sometimes it works; sometimes one wishes he would -- to paraphrase Hamilton -- talk less, sing more. Jordan, who also wrote the script, employs a slightly cumbersome structure. We see him onstage, singing, reminiscing, and trading jokes with his extremely able musical director Benjamin Rauhala. Intercut are scenes of him at home, revealing his sorrowful past to his unseen two-year-old as he assembles the props that symbolize them. (You can say with accuracy that he packs up his troubles in his old kit bag.)

As he tells little Clara, his childhood was a catalog of horrors, including divorce, abandonment, drug addiction, child abuse, and a deadly truck accident. That Jordan has emerged an attractive, gifted, and apparently stable performer seems like nothing short of a miracle. That he is apparently unburdening himself to a toddler -- even if only as a dramatic gambit -- is a rather worrying idea. "I guess you won't remember the stories I just told you," he says at one point. And a good thing, too, I should say.

Still, Jordan's painful growing-up narrative goes a long way toward explaining his intensely focused stage persona. It also makes clear how easily he invests the ballad "Santa Fe," from the musical Newsies, his breakout success, with such overwhelming longing. "Santa Fe" is the ultimate expression of the desire for escape and Jordan had plenty to escape from. Recalling with shame his decision not to get involved in some of his family's more violent episodes, he says, "I always knew I was going somewhere." And, as it happens, he was right about that.

Lest you think Carry On is all gloom all the time, I hasten to add that Jordan has never been in better voice, and he has assembled a charmingly quirky song list, including the pensive "Broadway, Here I Come," by Joe Iconis (from the TV series Smash), the bouncy power-pop anthem "The Middle," made famous by the band Jimmy Eat World; "Wake Me Up," one of Avicii's signature tunes; "Lullaby," by Billy Joel; and "Flesh and Bone, " another self-penned piece. If he could judiciously prune his script, there would be more room for numbers consigned to an eleventh-hour lighting-round sequence -- among them, "Moving Too Fast," from Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years; "Let Me Make You Proud," by Alan Menken from Tangled, and the Celine Dion evergreen "It's All Coming Back to Me Now," written by the late Jim Steinman. When Jordan delves wholeheartedly into a number, as he almost always does here, the results are thrilling.

Still, the show is top-heavy with personal revelations that threaten to overwhelm the music; a sequence in which he threatens to abandon the project and has to be coaxed back by Rauhala has a canned feeling. Because Carry On is defined more by sincerity than good judgment and editorial rigor, it will probably be best enjoyed by Jordan's many fans. If it allows him to work through some painful issues and move on with his career, it will prove to be well worth it.

Anyway, the show ends with a photomontage of Clara, who is a real cutie. Carry On is available on demand through May 27; tickets are at tinyurl.com/y3te5xej. -- David Barbour

(7 May 2021)

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