It isn’t until nearly the end of his debut show at the Café Carlyle (March 15-March 26, 2011) that Douglas Hodge launches into a rousing rendition of “I Am What I Am,” the powerful anthem from “La Cage Aux Folles,” in which he starred and for which he won a Tony. Jerry Herman wrote one of the great songs of musical theater at just the right time, and it still resonates for what it has to say about gay self-assertion, and more universally, for anyone who wants to stand up and be true to oneself. Hodge really turns on the juice and the result is thrilling.
But that is just one facet of what he does, and before that climactic number we get a chance to get to know other sides of him. Conversationally, he establishes his persona as a visiting Brit who tells anecdotes about his life and career. He sings various songs that he has written, which reveal that at heart he is something of a folk singer, tinged with a pop style. Especially when he accompanies himself on guitar--his back up musicians are Sonny Paladino, music director and piano, Jared Schonig, drums and Steve Millhouse, bass-- we get a picture of an entertainer who is very different from the Broadway image that brought him recognition this side of the ocean.
There is the twang of country in his “Left, Right,” one of his own compositions, but he also builds that image with the work of others, such as “A Boy Named Sue” by Shel Silverstein, “Who Killed Davey Moore?” by Bob Dylan and “Your Mother and I” by Loudon Wainwright III.
Hodge has written “Meantime,” a musical waiting to be staged, and he sings two songs from it—“I Can’t Wait” and “Ask Me Again.” There is also his romantic side, expressed with his “Kissin U,” and he also ventures into such numbers as “The Best Is Yet to Come” (music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Carolyn Leigh), “All In Love is Fair” (words and music by Stevie Wonder) and the glitzy “What Now My Love” (music by Gilbert Bécaud, lyrics by Pierre Delanoë, English lyrics by Carl Sigman).
He does justice to Jerry Herman’s “The Best of Times” and provides even more of his own work, such as “Boring,” which is anything but in the zippy way in which he performs it, and his final number, “I Didn’t Mean It.”
In short, Hodge’s talent is eclectic—hard to pin down in any one direction. Sometimes the clarity of lyrics is overshadowed by his enthusiasm for the music, for he brims with energy. Hodge gives the impression of a down-home guy who wants to have a good time as a performer and who keeps stretching to try anything that appeals to him. He takes to the stage as an entertainer, is known in England as a classical actor, but much of his heart appears to lie in composing. It is clear we’re going to hear a lot more from the Douglas Hodge we are just getting to know. At the Café Carlyle, Carlyle Hotel, Madison Avenue at 76th Street. Reservations: 212-744-1600.