The three-night only performance of “Say Yes – An Evening of Soup, Song, and Savory Stories” was not nearly enough spoonfuls for Jenny Levison’s one woman show at the Synchronicity Theatre.
From Nov. 2-4, this restaurateur, trailblazer, and philanthropist sang her heart out with the most precious and intimate details, often tongue-in-cheek, about the cartwheels in creativity of her most daring and creative life. A sign in the theatre lobby stated, “SMART, GUTSY, BOLD,” which sums her up.
Prior to the show, Levison’s first cousin, A.J. Robinson, president of Central Atlanta Progress, said, “This play is another step in Jennifer’s career as she has done so much to contribute to our community in the form of nonprofits, and living through her food business which employs and impacts a lot of people.”
Proceeds from the event went toward Levison’s nonprofit Zaide Project.
Local playwright Janece Shaffer told the AJT, “Levison is a hero, as someone who creates inspiration and insight into who she is.”
The program, which was written by Levison, directed by Courtenay Collins Eckardt, with musical direction by Bill Newberry, and Atlanta’s own Scott Glazer on double bass, was a string of show stopping songs that flowed as Levison segued though her life, including college, a best friend – who remained so after “coming out,” adopting a child, a failed marriage to a French chef (which was certainly not a failure since they traveled the world over a year collecting soup recipes, er go opening the first tiny Souper Jenny in Buckhead).
Of those travels, she said, “I learned to make the best shashuka in Israel and the best bulgur wheat fresh mint salad with a grandfather in Turkey.”
Dazzling in a two-piece black sequined outfit, Levison’s song, “I Can Cook,” gave the audience a glimpse, make that, a “wham” that they were in for a roller coaster ride – all from the top.
Levison posted her “Bucket List,” which was composed as a young adult pointing out which items had indeed come to fruition like: adopt a child, open a restaurant, become a philanthropist, work for myself, move closer to family, oh, and do a one-woman show.
Levison credited her parents for encouraging her to think big and bold, “that the universe is just waiting for me…if you want anything bad enough and are willing to work for it.” And “say yes, to scary things,” like her several attempts to climb the Vermont equivalent of Mount Everest, through the mud and rain, and not totally succeeding…yet…while also noting her matching tattoo.
Another scary, and perhaps not the wisest of things, was starring in a local performance with a three-minute-long nude scene with her family agog on the front row. At that younger point in her career, she was cooking by day and acting at night.
She said, “Now, at 58, I’m still an optimist and coloring outside the box.”
One of the earlier scenes involved the show’s director, Broadway star, and local music teacher, Courtenay Collins Eckhart, who bounced off Levison’s “mock” jealousy of the latter graduating from the prestigious Julliard vs. Levison’s drama education at Carnegie Mellon.
As the audience murmured, “Where on Earth did she find these songs,” Levison burst into stanzas as to why she is only attracted to bald men. But that was child’s play compared to the song, “Why Can’t I Get F***ed?…I just can’t get laid…,” to the stunned, mostly middle-aged-plus audience.
Behind those charming dimples, Levison’s backstage wall featured a series of photos depicting her journey, like holding baby Jonah after his adoption in California, and her deceased “cowboy/actor” dear friend.
The Zadie (Yiddish for “grandfather”) Project is a nonprofit feeding Atlanta’s hungry children, families, and seniors, so named for Jenny’s father, Jarvin, who motivated her to cook and get involved in the community. It’s his turkey chili recipe that is still the most popular soup in the chain. The Project will turn seven years old in December 2023.
“Love is rare, life is strange, nothing lasts, people change,” but Jenny, you nailed it!
Audience members left with an empty red notebook entitled, “Bucket List.”