Tony Winner Lena Hall Revisits Her Trippy Childhood in a New Cabaret Show
Hall explores her life growing up in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury in her latest concert.
Lena Hall has had a big year. After departing the Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, which netted her a Tony for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, she made her concert debut at the Café Carlyle, which spawned her first solo album. She also hit the road, joining music icon Josh Groban on his cross-country tour promoting his new showtune-based album, Stages.
Hall is now back in New York and preparing a completely different solo show, set to run at Feinstein's/54 Below from November 28-December 7. In it, she explores her unconventional upbringing in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, in a hippie compound known as the Villa Satori. The process is giving her an opportunity she rarely experiences: to be herself onstage, for once, instead of playing a character.
Tell me the origin story of this particular concert.
I went home and visited my parents. The house I grew up in is so eclectic and crazy. All the stuff [in it] is layers upon layers upon layers from the 1960s on. Nothing has been changed; it's just been added to. I haven't really done a show where I talk about how I grew up, or one that gives the audience any insight into who I am, so I thought it would be an opportune time. The whole show is basically going to be personal stories, and the songs that kind of go with those stories. It's tough for me, because I like being somebody else on stage. It's a lot harder for me to be myself, so this will be like an exercise in opening up and showing my own true colors and seeing if that works.
What was your childhood like?
From my perspective, it was normal. I wasn't aware of it being any different until I was older, in middle school and high school. All I wanted to be was normal, so I kind of hated it. I wouldn't have people over, I was kind of ashamed of my family. They embarrassed me. Now that I'm older, I really appreciate how I grew up and the people I grew up with. The activity that comes out of that house is amazing. There was always music playing. There was always something creative going on. It was inevitable for me to become a creative professional. Even when I wanted to be normal, when I was going, '"I want to be a lawyer,'" my parents were just like NO. They wanted to me to dance or do art. They kind of steered me.
What does '"Villa Satori'" translate to?
I think it means '"The House of Eternal Bliss,'" which is a '60s thing. I don't know where it came from [and] I don't want to know! [laughs]
How is your family taking to your current success?
It's funny. When I was first in a Broadway show, I don't think they understood the gravity of it, or the levity of it. They were proud, but they still wanted me to be a prima ballerina. But now they understand. They understand as far as Broadway is concerned. But now that I'm having success in TV and film, they don't understand it. It'll take a minute. But they certainly let go of the ballerina dream for me, which is nice. They're proud of me no matter what I do. They're blown away with how much I've accomplished.
What are you including on your song list?
I'm opening with "White Rabbit," and then it'll merge into punk rock, the Sex Pistols, and then into '90s stuff, because I have a lot of memories from the '90s. That's when I was in high school. It'll merge into grunge, with a Foo Fighters song. I'm still trying to incorporate my other musical talents that people don't know I have. [I'm going to be] playing the piano, even though I have extreme stage fright when it comes to playing the piano in public. I'm playing the guitar. I used to dance a lot. I would dance around the living room like Maggie in A Chorus Line. I have some good video of me doing that that I'll hopefully be able to incorporate into the show. It's been hectic since I've been back.
How was the touring life with Josh Groban?
It was amazing. He's an incredible person. He's such a fan of mine, and such a supporter. It was like the Make-A-Wish Foundation for Lena Hall. Onstage, he's like, "She's incredible and you have to buy her new album!" I'm so honored and grateful that he brought me with him.
Looking back on your year, do you believe all that's happened?
I mean, yes and no. I believe it because I've done it. I take a pause, many times, and I give thanks for all that has come to me. There are a lot of people in my life who help me and who have been amazing for me, and it's just…I don't know, it's one of those things where every once in a while I have to stop, take a breath, and say thank you. We should all be very thankful on a daily basis.