Whenever I mention a singer I love in the world of cabaret, the question I get thrown at me a lot is, “Who is she like?” But Barb Jungr isn’t remotely like anyone else. On January 16, 2018 the amazing Jungr performed a one-night only show at Michael Feinstein’s 54 Below with her music director, the gifted John McDaniel. Whenever I hear her, I am cognizant every moment that I am in the presence of a true original. Yet she’s original even for an original, because she doesn’t push her individuality at us as some artists do, begging us to notice how hard they’re working. Jungr has the rarest of gifts: she inhabits her songs fully and seamlessly, with such command and style and humor that we don’t take time out to track mentally where she may be going. And in McDaniel she has found a pitch-perfect partner: his choirboy adorability and smooth vocals contrast neatly with her edgy quirkiness…or is it quirky edginess?
The show that she and McDaniel performed at 54 Below was called Float Like a Butterfly—the Sting Project, and they made each of the Master’s songs that they took on all their own, beginning with “Wrapped Around Your Finger,” which established the tone of undiluted emotional honesty that distinguished the entire evening. In “Fields of Gold,” they created an impressive landscape of emotional peaks and valleys, wrinkling up the song in ways I prefer to Sting’s smoother, straight-lined original version. One of the high points of the night was “Moon Over Bourbon Street,” in which Jungr and McDaniel made me feel that I had actually been taken on a long trip to a place I had never imagined, and then brought back. With her easy, no-nonsense, pragmatic Englishness, Jungr immediately gives you the impression that it isn’t possible to pull the wool over her eyes; she revealed her gift for expressing political anger in “Russians,” and to make the song’s point in a more universal way, she encouraged the audience to shout out other nationalities who need to play by a different set of rules then they are accustomed to, such as the Chinese and Israelis. “Every Little Thing He Does is Magic” was a gleeful, irresistible expression of what it’s like to feel the intoxication of real love, and “With Every Breath You Take” had a wonderfully sharp and pointed subtext: the current “Me too” movement, which may well have originated from legitimate cases of abuse, but has turned into a pitiful and irresponsible witch hunt that allows the press—and many of our leading media figures—to grandstand. In Jungr’s hands, the song’s famous line “I’ll be watching you” never before had such a specific yet universal impact.