What happens when a young boy chases his Broadway dream relentlessly and attains that dream, only to see the dream go sour? Why, he becomes a psychotherapist, of course!
This is the true story behind Dr. Bradley Jones’ fascinating, wildly entertaining show, Dr. Bradley’s Fabulous Functional Narcissism, at Don’t Tell Mama.
Jones is a veteran Broadway performer who made a name for himself in Michael Bennett’s A Chorus Line, both on the road and here at home in New York City. This funny, poignant, and occasionally harrowing act recalls the story of how he got to Broadway, fell victim to the traps of drug abuse, promiscuous sex, and his own narcissistic tendencies, but came out the other side as a psychoanalytic clinician and author.
The show opened with a very telling “You Mustn’t Kick It Around,” from Pal Joey, in which he sang, ‘I have the worst apprehension that you don’t crave my attention,’ with a mock-frightened look on his face. He took us back to 1963, where as a pre-pubescent theater queen, he developed an obsession with the show Oliver...or more to the point, an obsession with killing the young actor playing Oliver in order to take over the role himself. This was the beginning of his ongoing quest for love and attention - his narcissism.
We heard tales of his parents - his father, a pathological accommodator with a taste for Canadian Club whiskey, and his mother, a fiercely social woman who liked to be the life of the party. And while his parents were clearly the root of his own narcissism, Jones’ love for them was evident, particularly when he sang “Very Soft Shoes,” from Once Upon a Mattress - complete with soft shoe routine - as a lovely tribute to his Dad.
Throughout the performance, Jones’ mood was cynically jovial, but two powerful Sondheim songs, “The Road You Didn’t Take,” and “I Remember Sky,” both sung simply, with a genuine sense of longing, created moving moments that showed us the ache of the loss of family and days gone by.
Sondheim’s “The Glamorous Life” served as a framework for stories of Jones’ years with A Chorus Line. Sporting his spangled finale top hat, he told us of his multiple auditions, and how he finally booked the show - not on Broadway, but a wearying bus & truck tour. Drug use was rampant amongst the cast, as was indiscriminate sex, and as he put it, musically: ‘Bradley is tempted, la-la-la.’ Eventually, he landed in the Broadway company, and stayed from 1981-1989. Along the way, he survived the AIDS epidemic, became a murder suspect, and blew out his knee, which brought an end to his Broadway dance career. The feelings of having to abandon such an important part of his life were expressed beautifully in “I Miss The Mountains,” from Next to Normal, as he sang ‘Seems my wild days are past...I miss my life.’
The final portion of the show could’ve been labeled “Getting Healthy,” wherein Jones made the decision to become a therapist, went into deep therapy himself, and eventually met the love of his life. The tale of his own analysis was cleverly set to the vamp from Kander & Ebb’s “Roxie,” which then segued into a lively “I’ve Got Them Feelin’ Too Good Today Blues,” by Leiber & Stoller, and was capped off with a joyful tap routine. He might have given up dancing for a living, but he certainly proved he’s still a hoofer! He also proved his love for his partner with renditions of Sondheim’s “Loving You” and “Sorry/Grateful” performed with quiet depth, tenderness and vulnerability.
Onstage, Jones was nicely supported by his excellent band, Chris Gurr and the Freudians - Jacob Silver on bass, Zack Eldridge on percussion, Alden Banta on woodwinds, and Musical Director Gurr himself at the keys. The woodwinds, in particular, gave the songs a lovely, romantic texture that I haven’t often found in many club acts.
Jones finished his wonderful public self-analysis with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Ten Minutes Ago” as an encore. In his hands, however, and placed where it was, it actually felt like a warm, loving thank-you to his appreciative audience.
I also felt it worth noting that the sold-out crowd was comprised almost entirely of fellow psychotherapists, as there was a national conference in town! One of them, sitting across from me asked me how I felt, being the only non-analyst in the room. I told him I felt very...observed!
At any rate, in my experience, many cabaret shows tend to be collections of songs arranged loosely around some central theme - Broadway’s greatest divas, for example, or the best of Cole Porter, perhaps. But Dr. Bradley’s Fabulous Functional Narcissism was a standout, in that it was the story of a life, from childhood to the present. And while Jones was very honest about his narcissistic past, his narrative never came across as self-serving or indulgent; just real. He seemed open, self-effacing and friendly; the kind of guy you’d like to just sit and talk to - which I suppose is a great quality for a psychotherapist. Right?!