BWW Reviews: Lena Hall Rocks Café Carlyle with SIN AND SALVATION

Lena Hall.
Photo by Stephen Sorokoff.

Fresh off of her Tony Award-winning run as Yitzhak in the Broadway revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Grammy-nominee Lena Hall made her Café Carlyle debut with her cabaret show Sin and Salvation. With her rocker sensibilities, she is opening the spring season by turning the intimate venue on its head with a show that features a fascinating blend of rock, pop, blues, and even a touch of rap. With Sin and Salvation Hall deftly holds the audience amazed by being her own bold breed of dazzling chanteuse.

Having built her star by being in Kinky Boots, Tarzan, 42nd Street, Cats, and winning the Tony for her performance as Yitzhak, Hall constantly delights in the cabaret setting by being down to earth and adorably unassuming. At the opening night of her show, she joked about doing songs that were inappropriate for the setting of Café Carlyle. She then sweetly declared, "I'm Lena Hall. I do what I want" and chased that with a heartwarming giggle. Holding the audience in the palm of her hands, Hall never comes across with attitude or bite. Instead, she is graciously demure, completely natural, and seems to be enjoying herself while geeking out about having such a prestigious opportunity.

Hall's song selection showcases her stunning voice, letting every nuance of her incredible pipes to be put on full display. She alternates from signing with the sensual, sexy grit and gravel of her alto to playing in her mild, light, and airy upper register. The charisma she sings with makes her vocal instrument addictive and alluring. While she tackles tunes that patrons of Café Carlyle are not used to hearing in the venue, Hall brings a decadently bluesy spin to the more edgy rock songs. Often slowing them down and allowing the words and emotions of the numbers to breathe from within her during the powerful performances.

Lena Hall and Watt White, music director.
Photo by Stephen Sorokoff.

Across the 15 songs that fill the 70 minute set, Hall clearly demonstrates to the audience what happens when Yitzhak is allowed to step out of the shadows of the gigantic gold platform heels and splashy wigs of Hedwig. Standout songs in her stirring program include her deliciously smooth take on "God" (Tori Amos), an earthy and soulful spin on "Psycho Killer" (David Byrne, Chris Frantz, Tina Weymouth), her gritty yet captivating rendition of the obscure rock standard "Lake of Fire" (Curt Kirkwood), her exquisitely confident and commanding performance of "It's a Man's Man's World" (James Brown, Betty Jean Newsome), and her evocative and raw take on "Take Me to Church" (Andrew Hozier-Byrne).

Music director Watt White has keenly worked with Hall on making sure that her rock goddess fits into the setting of Café Carlyle by smartly arranging the set to utilize the modalities of rock through the lenses of soul and blues. White also leads the capable band on the guitar and offers fantastic back-up vocals as well. Hall and Brian Fishler on drums are on the same page concerning tempos, making sure that each tune springs to vibrant life. Lee Nadel on bass and John Deley on keyboards flesh out the music with opulent chords and melodies.

Lena Hall continues her two-week residency at Café Carlyle (35 East 76th Street, at Madison Avenue) through April 18, 2015. Performances take place Tuesday - Saturday at 8:45 p.m. Reservations can be made by phone at (212) 744-1600 and online at www.ticketweb.com.

Photos by Stephen Sorokoff

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