By Brian Scott Lipton . . .
Those of you who remember the musical TV series Glee will recall that many of its episodes centered around one word written on a classroom blackboard. I have no idea if Dianna Agron, who spent seven years on the show as the often-manipulative Quinn Ramsay, actually owns such a thing – but she clearly wrote the word “love” somewhere while preparing the pleasing jazz-tinged set that she’s now performing through April 9 at the Café Carlyle. The word pops up in the title or lyric of every song in her 90-minute set.
At Tuesday’s opening night performance, Agron’s love for this storied cabaret – which she last headlined in 2019 – was extremely obvious – in both good and bad ways. Like many of us in the audience, she seemed genuinely giddy at finally being back in these hallowed surroundings; unfortunately, that giddiness also resulted in an obvious case of nerves that led to a handful of musical mistakes, albeit ones that only slight marred the act.
At her best, though, Agron’s mixture of husky nonchalance and quasi-innocence, along with her innate musicality, makes her a superb interpreter for many of the songs from the Great American Songbook that she chose to showcase: the playful “I Won’t Dance” (complete with a couple of verses in French); the sultry “Lover Man,” (made famous by Billie Holiday and Barbra Streisand); the gentle “I Wish You Love,” the world-weary “When Love Goes Wrong, Nothing Ever Goes Right,” and, most especially, the tantalizing “You Fascinate Me So.”
Still, in many ways, the audience – many of whom were clearly friends or long-time fans of the star – seemed to have the most fun when Agron was having fun onstage, most notably while performing “It’s Oh So Quiet” (which Agron admitted she thought was written by the Icelandic pop star, Bjork, who recorded it in 1995 – but was actually first introduced in America by the legendary Betty Hutton back in 1951) and the aptly-titled “I Want to Be Evil,” long a staple of Eartha Kitt’s repertoire. Indeed, it was heartening to hear the 36-year-old Agron pay homage to her Carlyle predecessors, specifically singling out Kitt, Bobby Short and Elaine Stritch as inspirations.
However, as Agron herself noted, this first performance before an audience was kind of a preview, allowing herself – and her extraordinary five-member band led by super-talented violinist Margot — to see what didn’t work. A too-fast version of “That Old Black Magic,” in which she gamely but unsuccessfully tried to keep up with her amazing drummer Etai, definitely falls into this category, and opening the show with Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” (especially as she flubbed a lyric or two) should be reconsidered.
Finally, in a bit of obviously unintended irony, Agron closed the show with a lovely rendition of “The Best Things in Life Are Free.” Yet, as we all know, a visit to the Café Carlyle is anything but free; but it does provide an experience you can’t find anywhere else in New York City, a fact that we all become too painfully aware of over the past 24 months.
Dianna Agron plays the Café Carlyle (35 East 77th Street) through April 9. Call 212-744-1600 for information.
Photos: David Andrako