Emily Bergl in publicity image
for NY I Love You
Emily Bergl in publicity image
for NY I Love You
In her superb new show, NY I Love You, now at the Café Carlyle, Emily Bergl conveys the qualities that have made her a successful actress in projects ranging from The Rage: Carrie 2 to Desperate Housewives and Southland. The pixieish performer may not have a particularly strong or distinctive voice, but she knows how to apply a distinctly modern stamp to often surprising material.

Presenting herself as an originally wide-eyed naïf from Iowa who became entranced by the big city, she begins with Rodgers and Hart's oft-performed standard "Manhattan." But hers is not the metropolis of yore.

Rather, Bergl's Big Apple is a place where lovers communicate by text message and chat rooms, in which a song like Rufus Wainwright's "Vibrate" takes on an erotic charge. "New York is like that really hot guy who'll always treat you like dirt," she comments ruefully.

Old songs are given unique new twists: "It Had to be You" is amusingly sung with an air of frustrated consternation. And while she may be hoping that "Someday My Prince Will Come," she's clearly impatient, indicated by her segue into Lou Reed's "I'm Waiting for the Man" followed by Prince's "I Wanna Be Your Lover," during which she wanders into the crowd as if auditioning potential mates.

Bergl also excels in taking cheesy pop songs from recent decades and investing them with startling emotional immediacy. The usually frothy "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" is sung in angrily defiant manner; Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)" is transformed into an aching ballad; and the catchy '80s ditty "Break My Stride" becomes an anthem of unremitting determination.

Indeed, much of the fun in the show, directed by Sarna Lapine, lies in the contrasts between her wholesomely sexy persona and often startling choice in material.

Perhaps no one but Bergl could manage to make the chilling line "I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die" from Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" sound almost sweet.