Award-winning singer/actress bringing cabaret show to Commons

Tony Award-winning actress Rachel Bay Jones laughs readily about risk.

As a 19-year-old, the high school dropout left her ex-actor parents in Florida and moved to the hardened Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood in the Manhattan borough of New York City to find her way into theater.

Jones might as well have tried to fly to the sun, as she considers the action today.

“As teenagers, we don’t think of those things as risks at the time,” Jones said with a big laugh, speaking by phone between midweek shows of her emotional Broadway hit “Dear Evan Hansen,” for which she won her Tony last year.

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“But I look back now and think, ‘Oh my God, I would never let my own (teen) daughter (Miranda) do something like that. Never. No.”

Jones, now 48, is throwing herself into a new risk of sorts: taking a solo show on a national tour with just her musical director and collaborator Randy Redd along as accompanist.

That concert, coming to the local Cabaret at The Commons on June 14, will be an 80- to 90-minute performance of about 15 songs of motherhood, love and more.

She mentioned that the presentation marks the first time she has taken such a cabaret outside of New York City. Already, her local show has sold out of VIP tickets and boasts 200-plus seats sold in an often last-minute-purchase town.

Jones made her Broadway debut in “Meet Me in St. Louis” and returned to New York as part of the 2009 revival of “Hair.” She also appeared in “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” and performed in the 2013 revival of “Pippin.”

Interestingly, the vocalist who renders an understated-yet-powerful rendition of the divorce lament “So Big, So Small” from “Dear Evan Hansen” never had formal voice training from an instructor. But Jones reminds people of another part of that story.

“I certainly have sacrificed my share of blood, sweat and tears (of training),” she said. “And my voice certainly hasn’t come without a lot of pain and practice. If anyone tells you otherwise about their own vocal ability, it’s a myth.

“It’s been interesting to learn to get the sound out that I hear in my own head. And I guess it’s been working out OK,” she added.

Jones said she probably took the hard road to musical prowess and jokingly labeled herself Do-It-The-Hard-Way Jones. Part of that hard way included years between some of her major roles.

“I always kind of shied away from the spotlight, even while the work itself was something I loved,” she said. “My reasons for originally going into the business always were a lit bit unclear even to me. And really, probably what I’ve actually been trying to do is to break down the walls I’ve put up between me and the rest of the world.”

What better way to do that than in an intimate, stripped-down cabaret? It’s a setting in which she can extemporaneously share with an audience, with no story character for emotional cover and safety.

“The way I can communicate and connect with an audience is the way I have discovered I can connect with people,” Jones said, emphasizing that she was a shy, bookish kid. “Granted, that’s a much harder way of communicating with someone than just talking at a party.”

She laughed easily at herself and her roundabout reasoning. Jones promised that the cabaret will spotlight a few elements of her life previously unrevealed.

“My collaborator is encouraging that,” she said.

Every so often, Jones remembers her lean days when her current recognition seemed a future impossibility. The way she figures it, during those dark times, at least her apartment pantry never went absolutely empty.

“No, I didn’t starve,” Jones said, remembering those early periods alone with only her dog (she now has English setters). “But I got really close.

“I remember that I got something horrible like pneumonia or bronchitis — something seemingly out of ‘Les Miserables’ — in the middle of a horrible, cold winter in the early 1990s. But I didn’t tell anybody or ask for help,” she added. “And when I look back now, I think, ‘Wow — what a dodo.’”

The memory returns as remarkably funny to her today — reminiscing with a degree of amazement on an actress who was hungry.

Hungry and determined to succeed.

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Who: Singer and Tony Award-winning actress Rachel Bay Jones performing songs about motherhood, love and more as part of Columbus Indiana Philharmonic’s Cabaret at The Commons series.

When: 7:30 p.m. June 14.

Where: The Commons.

Tickets: $40 tickets remain.

Jones’ current role: As struggling single mom Heidi Hansen in the Broadway hit “Dear Evan Hansen.”

Information: 812-376-2638 or