Jake Gyllenhaal’s bittersweet love song in the age of quarantine
While legendary octogenarians Anthony Hopkins, 82, and Judi Dench, 85, are trying to keep up with their millennial admirers by dancing in TikTok videos—with varying results (hers is classy; his, on the other hand, looks playful but “constipated”)—there’s a video posted on Instagram that is more than just a passing fancy: Jake Gyllenhaal singing a bittersweet ‘love song in the age of quarantine” that is an easy fit for his resonant and deeply emotive baritone.
Last Saturday, Jake had a special treat for his six million followers on Instagram. He posted a video of himself performing a three-minute and 20-second song from lyricist David Lindsay Abaire and composer Jeanine Tesori to raise funds for @24HourPlays, an organization whose members produce plays and musicals that are written, rehearsed and performed in 24 hours.
Jake’s performance has swept us off our feet because it’s about humanity enduring challenges against all odds, and hope springing to life. And while it’s about the constricting limitations posed by lockdowns against human interaction in these pandemic times, the 39-year-old actor nevertheless sings the story about a budding romance with so much hope brimming at the seams.
More than that, it’s a performance that plays out like a complete tale that is spun shorter than those you’ll see on Quibi.
The gorgeous song, called “Across the Way,” is about a man who finds unexpected love from a distance. The intro says it all, as Jake sings, “Another day in lockdown as panic grips the nation/Another day of quarantine and utter isolation/Thank God I have a window, thank God I have a view/Across the street, another window—and in that window is you…”
The welcome distraction gives the guy something to look forward to, as he chronicles how his relationship with the lovely but unknown stranger develops over the period of isolation.
On day 21: “I noticed you played the clarinet.” On day 24: “You sort of waved, and that was how we met.” On day 29: “At 2 a.m., we were up too late, I poured some wine, and you raised a glass—our first date.” On day 43: “You’re there across the street, laughing, as I play my guitar.”
Then, something stirs from within: “I don’t know your name, I don’t know who you are. But 60 feet has never felt so close and yet so far. So far I’m asymptomatic, except for a bad case of FOMO (fear of missing out). Life goes on. I want to know who you are.”
And at final fade, they manage to introduce each other.
We’ve always appreciated Jake’s out-of-the-box career choices, but we’ve grown to appreciate his taste and artistic boldness even more when we saw him on Broadway, bravely taking on the role of George in the 2017 revival of Stephen Sondheim’s “Sunday in the Park with George,” with costar Annaleigh Ashford as the French painter’s wife Dot.
Directed by Sarna Lapine, the musical inventively reimagines the stories behind the images in Georges Seurat’s painting, “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” strung together by a 22-actor ensemble breathing life into a 17-song musical showcase.
While some naysayers gave Jake a thumbs down for “not sounding” like Mandy Patinkin, who was magnificent in a previous incarnation of the musical, we thought it was idiotic to compare the two.
After all, it wasn’t the 2017 production’s intention to make a carbon copy or an imitation of previous adaptations. The sets may not have been flashier, but the performances were just as intimate and intense.
Jake’s voice has a rich, masculine texture, but it isn’t “wired” for soaring notes and sustained melodies—which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because not everybody can be a tenor. Even with a “compromised” falsetto, Jake managed to sing the circuitous notes of “Putting It Together” and “Finishing the Hat” without a hitch.
With a rich vibrato backed up by formidable acting chops, he more than held his own alongside the seasoned theater thespians he shared the stage with. As we noted in an article we wrote for Inquirer Entertainment, a well-told tale doesn’t need gimmicks to sustain its “viewability” and crowd-drawing appeal.
The Sondheim musical was supposed to open at the Savoy Theatre at the West End this summer, but its run had been overtaken by events.
“London is like second home to me, and I was so excited to be spending the season in that beautiful city,” Jake said on Instagram last week. “But, in accordance with science, we’re going to have to wait. We’ll find another Sunday to bring our ‘Sunday’ to you before too long. Until then, please stay safe and don’t worry; the beard will be back. Bigger and burlier than Broadway.”
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