Having caught talented Emily Bergl previously at the now-defunct Algonquin Oak Room, I was eager to see how she adjusted for her Café Carlyle debut (May 1-May 12, 2012). The difference is apparent. Now she stresses elegance more than effervescence, and there is little of the horsing around among audience members that would be less fitting in the super elegant Carlyle. On opening night her appearance immediately set the tone.
Bergl looked stunning wearing a black tuxedo jacket with tails, black tights instead of pants, mesh stockings accenting her legs and a white bow tie. Perfect for the room. Later in the show, she transformed into a more casual look with a long print skirt and blouse. Whatever she may wear, Bergl, a blonde, can come across either sophisticated or perky.
Most importantly, her interpretations are infused with wit. Her “It Had to Be You” is a prime example. She sings it with an air of disappointment that implies a blah choice that she has to settle for instead of the customary positive proclamation. With a nod to the contemporary, Bergl notes how internet chat has changed relationships as her introduction to “Hello! Ma Baby.”
The theme of the evening is “NY I Love You,” the show’s title, and she connects her selections to her love of the city. Her range is wide. She’ll sing tenderly for “I Wanna Dance with Somebody Who Loves Me,” sweetly for “In My Room” but assertively hyped for “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.” There’s a sad mood to “New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down.”
Bergl’s voice is crystal clear, extra apparent when she sings, for example “She Loves You,” a rendition quite beautiful and lyrical. She notes that ‘New York is Where I’m From,” another that fits her theme, was written by Jonathan Mastro, her music director and pianist. Bergl gets excellent backup from Mastro, Leroy Bach on guitar and Dave Phillips, bass. Sarna Lapine directed the show.
Although she is no Marlene Dietrich, she extracts sexy mileage from “See What the Boys in the Backroom Will Have.” There is a consistent freshness about her approach to everything, and her acting ability guarantees clarity to lyrics. Bergl knows how to connect with an audience, and there was tender sincerity as she sang as her encore, “We’ll Meet Again.” Indeed we will. At Café Carlyle, the Carlyle Hotel, 35 East 76th Street at Madison Avenue. Phone: 212- 744-1600.