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Cabaret Review

Cabaret Review: 'Emily Bergl: NY I Love You'

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Cabaret Review: 'Emily Bergl: NY I Love You'
Photo Source: Stephen Sorokoff
You have to give Emily Bergl an E for effort. The actor-singer, best known for her stint on “Desperate Housewives,” has a limited voice without much range or expression. Still, she gives her debut at the Café Carlyle, “NY I Love You,” her best shot. She endows an eclectic musical menu with an offbeat comic sensibility, and when she relaxes the result is rather sweet and fun. Musical director–pianist Jonathan Mastro, guitarist Leroy Bach, and bassist Dave Phillips wisely keep their accompaniment simple.

The tone of slightly smirking takes on familiar tunes is set at the opening, when Bergl enters in costume designer Sierra Robinson’s spangled tuxedo top and fishnet stockings and launches into a sarcastic, almost spoken delivery of that classic ode to Gotham, “Manhattan” (Richard Rodgers–Lorenz Hart). Hart’s sweet lyric about the simple joys of the big city is given a modern tweak as Bergl invokes speeding cars and nasty passers-by with the aid of additional verses from Mastro. This ironic reading continues with a snide “It Had to Be You” (Isham Jones–Gus Kahn), which repeats the arch interpretation of the first song.

The singer wisely switches the outlook on the next number, an interesting pairing of the romantic 19th-century ballad “After the Ball” (Charles Harris) with Whitney Houston’s pop chart-buster “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)” (George Merrill–Shannon Rubicam). Here Bergl’s acting ability compensates for her thin vocals, and she subtly conveys the ache of loneliness that both tunes express, though they are from vastly different eras.

The one-hour act has many such intriguing juxtapositions. They sometimes are quite effective, but Bergl tends to overplay the joke, and the humorous conceit gets dragged out. Returning to the theme of isolation, she couples an overly angry rendition of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” with “In My Room” (Brian Wilson–Gary Usher). The twist on the Cash song—a pretty cabaret songstress moaning about killing a man in Reno “just to watch him die”—is incongruously amusing for a few seconds but wears out its welcome before Bergl segues into an almost painfully wistful performance of the Beach Boys hit.

In the latter half of the show, Bergl changes costumes and attitudes. She slips out of the tuxedo and lets the shirt fall over her stockings à la Elaine Stritch, but instead of “The Ladies Who Lunch” we get a refreshingly bouncy “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (Robert Hazzard). Then she dons a floor-length skirt and, looking like Doris Day, doesn’t push so hard to be funny. After a lovely, simple account of “Bunclody,” a traditional Irish folk tune, she intersperses stories of living in Greenwich Village with sincere, straightforward versions of endearing pop songs such as “(Just Like) Starting Over” (John Lennon) and “She Loves You” (Lennon–Paul McCartney).

The high point is the encore: Bergl’s straightforward warbling of “We’ll Meet Again” (Ross Parker–Hughie Charles), accompanied by Bach’s rich, velvety guitar. The entire set had would have benefited from such a sincere and unforced execution.

Presented by and at Café Carlyle, 35 E. 76th St., NYC. May 1–12. Tue.–Fri., 8:45 p.m.; Sat., 8:45 and 10:45 p.m. (212) 744-1600.

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