There are few things as genuinely cheering as watching a motley group of New Yorkers spontaneously bump and shake together on a chilly evening. So come add some rhythm to your winter blues with Soho Rep’s Jomama Jones, a soulful solo act that gets audiences shimmying in their seats before bringing them up onstage to boogie down.
Afro-puffed r&b queen Jomama—the fabulous alter-ego of playwright-performer Daniel Alexander Jones (coyly credited here as the chanteuse’s cousin)—has just returned from bucolic self-imposed exile in Switzerland among her pet goats. Decades ago, emulating musical ex-pats like Josephine Baker, she fled the U.S., sick of the materialism and complacency. But now she’s back traveling “incog-negro” to take the pulse of Obama’s America (and give concerts).
Jones’s formula—there isn’t much plot here beyond Jomama’s winning personality—is anecdotes that lead to songs, and both are pretty irresistible. Flanked by the slinky synced-up moves of the Sweet Peaches (Helga Davis and Sonya Perryman)—each capable of vocal gymnastics—Jomama runs the musical gamut from Tina Turner–style hard-driving rockers to searching slow jams. Nostalgic musings about childhood games of Double Dutch cue the cheery funk of “Endless Summertime.” Reminiscences about exotic Marrakech prompt groovy fusion tunes. And, of course, there’s the strutting “Show Pony,” in which the singer (with a little help from the audience) considers a complex algorithm that weighs looks and physical prowess to assign male spectators to particular equine categories.
The musicians bop along good-naturedly under the sensitive leadership of Bobbie Halvorson, seemingly as pleased to be there as we are.
In between numbers, Jomama brings the houselights up so she can chat with spectators, delivering arch innuendo with the impeccable social grace of a practiced hostess. (She volunteered to demonstrate her fitness to me after the show with some deep knee bends backstage).
The sunny optimism of Jomama’s worldview (hard-won, but all the brighter for that) is infectious: When, towards the end, she asks us to turn to a stranger and make a good wish for the coming year, the room positively hums with concentrated goodwill.
According to her own rubric, Jomama Jones is both a show pony and a workhorse: She gets the job done, and she looks good doing it.