In her debut at Cafe Carlyle, actress Dianna Agron knows what the people want to hear. Two years after the finale of Glee, the hit television series that shot her to name recognition but showed very little of her vocal ability or charm, Agron is in the process of reintroducing herself. The stint at the Carlyle, with four shows playing through September 23rd, is an evening of mostly songs originally sung by men from the 1960s. Assisted by guitarist Gill Landry, Agron doesn’t do any daring reinterpretations of tunes by Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, or Lou Reed, but by simply playing the songs and singing them well, she understands the atmosphere at the Carlyle. The venue is a comfortable and forgiving space for exploration and a perfect place for Agron’s loose jam session with Landry.
Agron is not a raw performer. Though her nerves betray a sense that the set list has been hastily thrown together, her performances are studied. That’s totally fine in this setting. She has a lovely voice and can barely contain her giddiness at singing her favorite songs from childhood. What she lacks in instinct, she makes up for in smart interpretations of well-worn numbers. When singing Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day,” she takes the final haunting repeated line, “You’re going to reap just what you sow,” in a new direction each time; it’s engaging and clever, given that Agron admits that’s she’s mostly singing nap-time music. That very intentional style of singing doesn’t always work. In her take on the Sonny Bono-penned “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down),” she hits every consonant too sharply, missing the mournfulness and melancholy of one of the great breakup songs.
Agron is a charmer throughout, though she could use a little more confidence in her vocal ability as she moves through songs she thinks are too good for her. Free of auto tune and songs out of her vocal range, she reveals herself to be a capable and precise singer with an appreciation for excellent lyrics. She nervously encourages audience participation near the end and beams as she gets the audience to sing along with her as she gracefully glides her way through Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love” and the pop standard “Dream a Little Dream of Me.” It’s a warm way to use the intimate space at the Carlyle to share her love for perhaps the greatest era of popular music and break free from the slick televised entertainment with which we associate her.
Photos: Santiago Felipe
Dianna Agron is in residence at Cafe Carlyle through September 23rd. For tickets, visit https://www.ticketweb.com/events/org/165022?pl=cafecarlyle.