Barb Jungr and John McDaniel’s show 1968 - Let the Sun Shine In at Joe’s Pub, was a hip and trippy tribute to that momentous year. But Jungr and McDaniel were the perfect guides, so there was no need for chemical enhancement!
1968 was a year of turmoil. The Vietnam War escalated with the Battle of Khe Sanh and the Tet Offensive, Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, and police clashed with anti-war protesters outside the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. But despite, or perhaps because of this turbulence, 1968 gave us some of the best rock, pop, folk and soul music the world has known! With iconic records like the Beatles’ White Album, Marvin Gaye’s I Heard it Through the Grapevine, the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet, Simon & Garfunkel’s Bookends, and many more, the music scene virtually exploded, so Jungr and McDaniel had a wealth of material from which to choose!
Jungr, a multi-award winning vocalist, with fabulously eclectic musical tastes and McDaniel, a Grammy Award winning Broadway conductor, arranger and producer, first teamed up in 2015. With this collection of songs, Jungr, known for her masterful interpretations of songs and quirky humor, was in her element, while McDaniel matched her energy perfectly.
The show actually began with a little humor, albeit unintentional. Upon their entrance, Jungr crossed to the stage left corner, looking for her microphone. The mic stand had been placed stage right, however, leading Jungr to comment on the slick opening they had planned, which now had to be delayed so she could turn around, go to the other side of the stage, and retrieve the mic over there. McDaniel also found a roll of gaffer’s tape in the piano and asked Barb if she needed some! She didn’t. Nevertheless, they launched into the perfect opening number, Steppenwolf’s iconic ode to counterculture and the freedom of the open road, “Born to Be Wild.”
After remarking that 50 years had passed since 1968, Jungr spoke about the rock musical Hair, which began at the Public Theatre, where Joe’s Pub is located, and opened on Broadway in 1968. She and McDaniel then gave us a funky take on “Aquarius,” done in a 10/4 tempo; a tricky time signature that seemed reminiscent of some of Sondheim’s more complex works, making it wonderfully fresh and different.
Throughout the evening, many of the selections showcased new and unexpected arrangements of songs many of us have known for so long: McDaniel took a solo on Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man,” with a slower, appropriately gospel-like feel, and a medley of the Beatles’ “Revolution,” and the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” felt more soulful than either of the originals.
In 1967, the first Women’s Liberation organizations formed in the U.S., and as Jungr told us, the movement gained strength in 1968, and it’s effects trickled down into popular culture, including the music of Motown. This led us into a driving version of Diana Ross & the Supremes’ “Love Child,” which began slowly, then built up in tempo, revealing a moving undercurrent of anger and sadness in Jungr’s vocal.
Other highlights included a lyrical rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s “America,” a dark, mysterious, cathartic version of Bob Dylan’s “This Wheel’s On Fire,” and a simple, beautiful cover of Randy Newman’s “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today,” which came across as a plea for kindness and compassion in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination and the horrors of the Vietnam War. They also took us to church again, with a majestic version of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart,” in which McDaniel’s arrangement sounded more gospel-influenced than the searing, hard-rocking original, but it was no less powerful, with solid, expressive vocals.
I’ve always admired Jungr’s ability to cut to the heart of a lyric and make her song selections honest and personal. In the patter that led into Burt Bacharach & Hal David’s “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” she spoke of her childhood in England and how she longed to escape her hometown of Stockport and get to the bright lights of London. When she sang ‘Fame and fortune is a magnet, it can pull you far away from home,’ her backstory gave us insight into why the song meant so much to her. It was a lovely touch.
I’ve seen Barb Jungr work with different accompanists, and they were very good, of course, but this was my first time seeing her paired with John McDaniel. I feel their collaboration worked so wonderfully, partly because of McDaniel’s beautiful, intelligent arrangements, but also because it seemed that they get each other; they’re in sync, in tune. When singing together, their voices blended perfectly, creating simple yet lovely harmonies, and their onstage banter flowed as effortlessly as the music they were making. It’s cliché, I know, but it’s like they were meant to perform with each other.
At any rate, we’d heard a number from Hair at the top of the show, so it seemed appropriate to end with one as well, and I couldn’t think of a better way to close the show than with the song that practically defined the hippie era, “The Flesh Failures/Let The Sun Shine In!” Beginning with the more serious verse, Jungr eventually worked her way into and through the audience, leading us all in a sing-along on the refrain of ‘...let the sun shine!’ Everyone was singing and clapping and it all felt like a big love-in. Like 1968, these are turbulent times and we could all certainly use a little more love! Right?