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BWW Review: Gina Gershon Gets Wild in Her Cafe Carlyle Debut

BWW Review: Gina Gershon Gets Wild in Her Cafe Carlyle Debut
Gina Gershon, with pianist Eli Brueggemann, makes her Café Carlyle debut with WILD WOMEN DON'T GET THE BLUES.
Photos: Ellen Qbertplaya

"God, you guys are easy," Gina Gershon joked at Café Carlyle, after garnering applause simply for taking off her jacket.

And, it's true, the crowd was in the palm of Gershon's hand from the moment she took the stage on June 5. But you can't say she didn't earn it. With her show, WILD WOMEN DON'T GET THE BLUES, inspired by the wild women from her own life, it was clear that those women were in good company with Gershon.

Kicking things off with show's titular song, written and performed by Ida Cox, the twang in her voice was more surprising than the swagger in her step. This is Cristal Connors, after all. (But we'll get to that.) Gershon's first "wild woman" was her bingo parlor-owning, "good-time gal" grandmother, Pearl, who had an on-again, off-again relationship with Gershon's grandfather, even when she was still married to a blackjack player she ran off with at one point. "So, I guess she was kind of a bigamist?" Gershon asked, with a shrug.

That frankness was imbued into each moment, whether Gershon was singing or telling stories from her unique upbringing. She went full country on "Lost Highway" (Leon Payne), pulling out her Jew's harp and plucking away. Her voice was versatile, too, emulating an endless supply of great female singer-songwriters. With "I'm Gonna Catch Me A Rat" (Jessie Mae Robinson), she proved her singing voice had real power.

It was impossible to guess what would happen from one moment to the next. In one of her stories, one of her wild women made her promise to carry a knife at all times in New York. Following through on that Chekhov's switchblade, she pulled out a butterfly knife and began twirling it around with her hand. "It's from the Philippines," she said with a sly growl. "It's illegal."

That unfiltered vibe had its drawbacks at times. For a number she wrote herself about her childhood nanny called "Marie," her voice took on a wonderful snarl. It was just a shame that her uncomfortable impression while singing, "She said, 'Whoop that white-ass honkey child'" left a bit of a bad taste to an otherwise impeccable number.

After dishing on another "dame," her Great-Aunt Ida, Gershon mostly turned away from her WILD WOMEN. To say that the second half of the show all but ignored that premise wouldn't be untrue, but it would be missing the point during a true delight of a show.

During that period, she focused instead on her relationships with men, as well as her career. After having a ball on "He's A Tramp" (Peggy Lee), with the band "woofing" along for laughs, Gershon offered up a surprising truth. She revealed that though she grew up with the blues in her life---the late jazz musician Jack Elliott was her uncle---she'd never sang them at a gig like this before. That was far more surprising than any narrative turn to the show, given the confidence with the material that radiated throughout.

BWW Review: Gina Gershon Gets Wild in Her Cafe Carlyle Debut
Gina Gershon at the Café Carlyle

Then came the story of her big break, working on a film helmed by a man identified only as the "great, complex Dutch director." "That movie was SHOWGIRLS," she said, pulling out a pair of maracas and hilariously shaking them for dramatic effect. Despite this, she neither under- or oversold the film's impact on her life, simply using it as yet another vehicle for good storytelling, from a battle with the director or her mother's cool-as-a-cucumber response to the more salacious aspects of Gershon's now-infamous role.

Again and again, she displayed new layers to her voice, including a complex, almost pyramidic medley of several songs, including "You Belong to Me" (Pee Wee Kin/Chilton Price/Redd Stewart), "I Go to Sleep" (Ray Davies) and "Cheers Darlin'" (Damien Rice). Following a slightly rocky transition at one point in the medley, leading out of "Nothing Compares 2 U" (Prince), Gershon found new reserves of energy that buoyed her for the rest of the evening.

On another self-written tune, "Pretty Girls on Prozac," Gershon's dream-like performance was perfectly accentuated with the band sighing like they'd just taken the most exquisite sip from a good, stiff drink. Explaining that she'd moved back to New York when she realized all the women she knew in L.A. were on antidepressants, Gershon's candid streak continued. Noting that she's not one to judge, she joyfully revealed she herself had found a doctor in the city who gave her ketamine therapy.

Honestly, the show would be worth it for the band roll call alone. Starting with Steve Bernstein on trumpet, Gershon hinted at and ultimately abandoned the story of how they met. (It was deemed too inappropriate, which, given what she was willing to share, is saying something.) Along with Jerome Jennings on drums, she was accompanied on piano by Eli Brueggemann, who miraculously was a protege of her uncle's. Getting to Brad Jones, doing a solo on the bass, she growled, "And then what happened?"

It was the perfect distillation of a show that was captivating and loose and, most of all, made me wonder, "Why is Gina Gershon ever not onstage?"


Gina Gershon continues at the Café Carlyle with WILD WOMEN DON'T GET THE BLUES through June 16. For tickets and information, visit www.rosewoodhotels.com.

Troy Frisby is an entertainment writer and digital news producer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter @TroyFrisby.



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