Jane White, Who? Autobiographical musical by Jane White and Joe Masteroff, with songs by various composers and lyricists. Musical direction by Rodger Leonard.
The new one-person show at One Sheridan Square combines reminiscence and observation with interludes of song to suit the mood of the moment. The title intimates that there are those among the public who may have forgotten or may not know the versatile central figure whose life and times pass in review.
Jane White and Joe Masteroff remedy any such uncertainties with a series of vignettes extending from childhood to artistic maturity. The autobiography is marked by self-irony, sharp comment, and candor as Miss White tells her story. It is the story of a light-skinned black girl, the daughter of the renowned civil-rights leader, Walter White, as she found her way and her identity in a profession her father considered "trivial."
"Jane White, Who?. . ." is more graceful than it title. According to her own account, Miss White was an excessively prim child who never failed to curtsy to her elders. Gradually, the primness passed. From her theater credits, she recalls work in early interracial drama ("wen the theater had solved the color problem with three plays") as well as a classic train of Shakespearean, Greek, and other queens. Her Helens range from Helen of troy to "Tante Helene," whom she celebrates with a tantalizing calypso, one of the more playful musical mementos.
Nicely accompanied by a trio under the leadership of pianist Rodger Leonard, the deep-voiced Miss White performs a repertoire of mainly theater tunes by Porter, Sondheim, Kander-Ebb, Weill-Brecht, and Arlen-Capote, to name a few. Among my favorites in the unhackneyed medley of 20 numbers were "sing Happy," a saucy "Give Him the Oo-La-La," "Pirate Jenny," "That's Him," the intensely tender "My Space," and "Hallelujah, Baby," with a salute of rhythmic hand clapping from the audience.
While the device of having Miss White refer to herself in the third person permits a certain amount of detached analysis, it seems more self-conscious than serviceable. The racial aspects of being young, black, and talented are handled pointedly but without rancor. Altogether, this is an admirable entertainment, smoothly organized, a pleasant blend of memoir and music. Incidentally, for further reference, Who's Who in the Theater answers the question raised in the title with well over a column of credits.