Emily Bergl
Emily Bergl
Theater star Emily Bergl's quick rise to nearly household home status -- as evidenced by her recent television stints on Desperate Housewives, Southland and Royal Pains, can be attributed to her adept dramatic talent, her unmissable comedy chops, and her wow-inducing legs. But while much of what she does in her new cabaret act,: Kidding on the Square, now at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, is on the mark, almost as much needs additional honing.

In the show -- which Bergl tried out earlier this year at the Laurie Beechman Theatre -- she declares she intends to mine "old-fashioned" material from the vantage point of a "modern girl." Indeed, Bergl -- wearing a faux-period grey floor-length gown that goes through two revealing changes -- plants herself in the 1920s and 1930s so solidly that at times she could be mistaken for a reborn Jean Harlow or a young again Jane Wyman.

She sets out on her mission with a take on Noel Coward's "Mad About the Boy," through which she goes amusingly literal by becoming increasingly mad, and follows that song up with the naughty-but-nice Howard Dietz-Arthur Schwartz "Confession."

Her most effective moment is when combining the Lily Allen-Greg Kurstin outburst, "The Fear," and the Peter Brown-Robert Rans tune "Material Girl." The medley allows her to portray a modern girl who has discarded everything supposedly old-fashioned and is suddenly aware of the price exacted.

Bergl also has fun mocking French sophistication with "Sympathique," a song delivered entirely in French about being so world-weary that the only thing left to do is smoke nonchalantly. She then decides to go Teutonic with a version of "Bei Mir Bist Du Schon" in which Bergl, playing a Marlene Dietrich type, insists the correct pronunciation of "Schon" is different than the commonly-heard "Shane" and tries to get the audience to correct the mistake. The gag lasts too long for the entertainment it provides.

The sequence also exposes the limitations of Bergl's voice. Sometimes she sounds as if she has heavy-metal pipes, but at other times the tones are thin and the pitch uncertain, and even her acting skills can't carry her through.

Indeed, she only reaches okay grade with her impersonation of the sad barfly in "Something Cool" and gets approximately the same results with Dave Frishberg's "Peel Me a Grape," while appearing to mimic Blossom Dearie. Her most baffling foray is singing an increasingly agitated version of "Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart" as Judy Garland at the start of her film career. Huh?