Emily Bergl: NY I Love You
The pixieish performer applies a distinctly modern stamp to a surprising range of material in her superb cabaret show at the Café Carlyle.
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.