Lena Hall Rocks and Rolls Café Carlyle

 

 

 

Lena Hall’s “Oh! You Pretty Thing” Plays The Café Carlyle through June 25

 

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by Jordan Cohen

 

“Now this next guy…” is a phrase Lena Hall summons ironically, and often, throughout her bittersweet and ultimately uplifting new cabaret, Oh! You Pretty Things, that she’ll be perfoming at the Café Carlyle through June 25. Using song and monologue, Ms. Hall tours us through a “greatest hits” of her loves and losses, beginning when she was an “adorable child in ballet,” just eleven, and her older sister’s friend catches her without underwear on. The stories aren’t all so innocent, though, and by exposing herself to us—her experiences, her humor, her sadness, her intelligence –—we gain more and more insight into the heart and mind of this supremely talented star.

 

Ms. Hall has made a mark on the theatre world as the original Nicola in Kinky Boots and as Yitzhak opposite Neil Patrick Harris, et al, in last year’s Tony-winning revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch (for which she herself won a well-deserved Featured Actress Tony). But what many fans of the Great White Way may not know is that Ms. Hall is a rock-and-roller through and through: she fronts the rock group The Deafening and has a deeply palpable appreciation for the history of rock and roll, from the heyday of the Beatles and Bowie, to The Sex Pistols, Aerosmith, and yes, even Billy Joel (the funniest moment comes when she reenacts a road trip, trying to impress her Billy Joel-devoted boyfriend by knowing the words to We Didn’t Start the Fire. It didn’t go so well.).

 

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The sum total is a mix of delirious highs and bitter lows, a pair of extremes Ms. Hall confesses she often finds herself in. When she broke up with her Billy Joel-boyfriend she took the first flight to Paris to recuperate. She became engaged to her next boyfriend after two weeks (she bought the dress, sent the save-the-dates, but never made it down the aisle). She changed her name and began drinking hard while dating her bandmate boyfriend. She drank even harder when that ended, but the next guy, a health guru, helped pull her back up. This is Lena Hall, laid bare onstage, resoundingly honest, re-living the pain and heartbreak, the joy and excitement, the pleasures, angers, and fears of her past to remind us that we are all humans just trying to connect, just trying to love, even if sometimes in vain.

 

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It goes without saying that Ms. Hall is one of the best singers in New York today. She has a remarkable ability to weave in and out of styles, controlling her tone to perfectly capture the essence of each song. Blend that with her rebel heart and you bet she blew the roof off The Café Carlyle. She transitions seamlessly between edgier (and strange to hear in such a hallowed and formal venue) numbers like Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” Sex Pistol’s “Holiday in the Sun,” and The Darkness’s “I Believe in a Thing Called Love,” as well as softer songs like Billy Joel’s “I Go To Extremes” and Elton John’s “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.” She brings a sad and soulful brooding to Colin Doyle’s “Cold Whiskey Girl” and the set culminates cathartically with two David Bowie tunes, “As the World Falls Down” and “Five Years,” delivered with strength and wisdom.

Her excellent band consists of Watt White, musical director and bass, Justin Craig on guitar, Brian Fisher on drums, and the show’s director, Stephen Amato.

 

Ms. Hall will be touring with Hedwig this summer. In perhaps the ultimate nod to her versatility, she will not only be reprising her role of Yitzhak, but also playing Hedwig in a few cities. If that isn’t living life in the extremes, I don’t know what is.

 

Lena Hall: Oh! You Pretty Things runs through June 25 at Café Carlyle in The Carlyle hotel (35 East 76th Street at Madison Avenue). www.thecafecarlyle.com

 

 

Photos: David Andrako

 

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