By: Darryl Reilly
A soaring rendition of “Days” from David Bowie’s 2003 album, Reality is a grand highlight of powerful and seasoned vocalist Raquel Cion’s self-written autobiographical tribute concert Me & Mr. Jones: My Intimate Relationship with David Bowie. It’s a passionate, superbly performed and musically accomplished exploration.
That number takes place near the end of the show’s often wrenching 100 minutes. Having the novelty of leaning toward lesser known compositions, the program is still peppered with standards. Following “Days” there’s a blazing “Jean Genie.” In between songs, there is Ms. Cion’s haunting confessional performance art-style commentary with its comic flourishes.
Making her way through the audience dressed in costume designer David Quinn’s shimmering Aladdin Sane-style outfit, Cion’s makeup and hair also echoes that Bowie character as she begins. Later on, Mr. Quinn’s sensational creations for Cion include a witty take on Kansai Yamamoto’s iconic 1973 Ziggy Stardust black and white jumpsuit and a funereal black dress adorned with gold spots for the elegiac Blackstar era. The joyous opener of “Moonage Daydream” is a welcome deception as this is not simply a greatest hits affair with jaunty patter.
“The world shifted, I shifted… ,” says Cion about learning of Bowie’s death on January 10, 2016, at the age of 69 of liver cancer. His final recording Blackstar was released on January 8, his birthday. Through her “Bowie network” she had gotten a copy of it a week earlier. Constant listening led her to believe that this was his final message to his fans. “It was notes passed directly to us. He’s telling us how to cope.” In September 2016, the now cancer-free Cion was diagnosed with breast cancer. Me & Mr. Jones: My Intimate Relationship with David Bowie has the moving dimension of an artist paying homage to a deceased idol while informed of her own mortality.
It was as a 12-year-old growing up in Connecticut watching 1970’s television variety shows that Cion became fascinated by Bowie. Interspersed throughout the presentation are a well-crafted collage of romantic, professional and personal memories. There’s comical and poignant reminiscences of being in the Bowie fan community and encountering a special eccentric who owned the greatest collection of Bowie memorabilia and ephemera. We also learn that Cion has advanced degrees in Library Science and works as a librarian.
Most Bowie devotees could launch into an eloquent reverie detailing their admiration which invariably begins in adolescence and would involve witnessing their first concert, seeing more of his shows as an adult and perhaps sightings of him. Very few would likely possess Cion’s vocal abilities and stage presence that enables her to transform those reflections into such a compelling and universal event as Me & Mr. Jones: My Intimate Relationship with David Bowie.
With her richly expressive character voice, alternating between appealing deepness and wonderfully hitting high notes, she beautifully does justice to each song. We see every hallowed surrealistic image contained in “Life On Mars” due to her precise phrasing and crisp enunciation. Written in 1995, with its incendiary title, harsh lyrics and considering the state of the nation today, “I’m Afraid of Americans” becomes a prophetic terrifying showstopper as performed by the dynamic Cion.
Supporting and subtly interacting with Cion is the smashing band consisting of music director Karl Saint Lucy on piano, Jeremy Bass on guitar, Michael Ryan Morales, drums, and Daniel Shuman on bass. Integral to the production’s success is director Cynthia Cahill’s presentational expertise. Working in the confines of a cabaret environment, Ms. Cahill still manages to inject small-scale theatricality with varying placement of Cion, lighting effects and a sense of momentum as the musical numbers and spoken word portions seamlessly blend together.
“Tiresias, a one-eyed seer” is how Cion refers to Bowie in a stream of consciousness portion and she describes vivid dreams of him. It’s all more facets of Me & Mr. Jones: My Intimate Relationship with David Bowie’s enchanting sensibility.
Me & Mr. Jones: My Intimate Relationship with David Bowie (various dates from January 16 – March 14, 2020)
Pangea, 178 2nd Avenue, in Manhattan
Running time: 100 minutes without an intermission