Broadway star Rachel Bay Jones has had a storied stage career from her humble beginnings growing up in Boca Raton, performing locally until dropping out of college to pursue Broadway at the age of 19. Accompanied by pianist Randy Redd, who made his debut on the Great White Way in the Lincoln Center Production of “Parade” directed by Harold Prince. The actress/singer brought her show to the Aventura Arts & Cultural Center where a season of Broadway talent is coming to the intimate theater.
Jones unassumingly sauntered onto the stage in a white pantsuit and glasses that she removed before kicking off with the song “Sing Happy” from the Kander and Ebb musical “Flora The Red Menace.” While the show has only had two major productions, it is notable for being the debut for future star Liza Minelli. Speaking about her Broadway journey, Jones sang the “Trolley Song” from her debut as the understudy for Judy Garland’s role of Esther in the 1989 production of “Meet Me in St. Louis.” With the litany of repetitive words in the song, Redd yelled out the first word of each line in a moment of pure comedy as Jones would stumble then catch the entire line.
With her youth in local theater, Jones regaled stories of performing in “Little Shop of Horrors” and even in a more recent production of “Evita” at Actors Playhouse in Coral Gables that performed the show in both English and Spanish. Though the actress is not bilingual, she had the Spanish script hidden stealthily around the set, notably on her Casa Rosada podium as she belted “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” leading the audience in an Argentinian choir. Throwing in favorites from shows like “Songs For a New World” and especially Sondheim numbers from “Anyone Can Whistle” and “Into the Woods.”
Rachel Bay Jones’ spoke of her bigger Broadway roles, beginning as a replacement in the “Hair” revival singing the song “Frank Mills.” As an understudy for Patti Lupone in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” Jones leads with an anecdote about being intimidated by the Broadway diva who showed the singer absolute kindness and mentorship. While “Pippin” gave the actress her first Broadway major credit, Jones won big in the 2017 Tony Award season when she received the award for “Best Featured Actress” as the struggling single mother Heidi in “Dear Evan Hansen.” Departing the role in 2018, Jones went on to perform in one of her last major theater roles as the troubled, bipolar mother Diana in the Kennedy Center run of “Next to Normal.” In her rendition of “I Miss the Mountains,” the singer is easily heart shattering as she laments life before the numbness of bipolar medication. For the finale, Jones ordered the house lights of the theater raised as she led the crowd in a sing-along of the powerful “Being Alive” from the musical “Company.” The show-stopping closer was introduced by Jones detailing the ordeal she had spending thousands of dollars to audition for the recent 2020 Broadway revival to perform for director Marianne Elliot. While the role would inevitably go to Katrina Lenk, Jones’ stellar belt and impeccable acting chops left me wondering. Somewhere, in some alternate universe we could have seen Rachel Bay Jones as Bobbie in one of the final shows with direct input from Stephen Sondheim.
“Anyone Can Whistle”
“Two Lost Souls”
“Somewhere That’s Green”
“Kind of Woman”
“Just One Step”
“Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”
“I Miss the Mountains”
“So Big/So Small”