by Margret Echeverria
Gina Gershon, to me, is absolutely one of the sexiest women alive. And by sexy, I mean intelligent, vulnerable, awake and . . . those incredible lips of hers! Gershon’s self-designed cabaret show, Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues at Café Carlyle parts those lips with song, stories and – what?! – a Jew’s harp!
I was a little nervous because, having never been to the Cafe Carlyle before, I attended this show by myself and, included in my ticket, was dinner scheduled one hour and forty-five minutes before the show starts for which one must arrive promptly. I feared that awkward self-loathing feeling of having too much time to eat alone in public, but that sensation never creeped even distantly to my actual experience. The meal was exquisite. Every bite and the the wine were a celebration of flavor and elegance. I had the beets and burratta to start followed by the salmon – so moist with a crisp skin. The servers were happy long-time employees of the Carlyle loaded with stories about the history of the hotel, its historic residents and kind gestures that made me feel like they were genuinely glad I dropped in. I was addressed as Ms. Echeverria as though the reservations had been studied before I got there. And maybe I was just particularly blessed this evening, but the couple seated next to me at the bar were an utter delight. The time before curtain could not have passed more pleasurably.
Gershon walks right past me as the music begins for her first number played by her very tight band. She hesitates for a moment standing in front of me and letting the rhythm fill her body before moving like a well lubricated Billy Holiday onto the stage, vodka in hand, to sing Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues by Ida Cox. Gershon’s maternal aunt is sitting in the audience front and center this night and Gershon spots her immediately. We discover Gershon is not actually drunk as she realizes she is about to tell family secrets and that maybe her aunt will have some opinions about how these personal tales will be told. This revelation completely disarms Gershon who says, “This is so weird” and “Sorry” more than three times. The rest of us wonder if maybe there is a way to get the benevolent servers to gently lure Tanta out of here – maybe with that opera cake I just swooned over, but that would be rude. I’m routing for Gershon to move on and light the room on fire; leave Tanta be and give us a polished performance.
But that is not who Gershon is. She is here to be flawed, bold and thoughtful. This is not rehearsed spontaneity; this is the real deal when it comes to the narrative. We are just going to have to relax and see what happens. And this fabulous band, directed by Seven Bernstein on trumpet, is not going to let anyone fall. Bernstein’s expressions are tickled and awe at every moment Gershon opens up to to us about the fabulous women who raised her. It’s as if she is telling these stories for the first time tonight. She checks in with Tanta often. The punchlines about what a clever woman her unorthodox grandmother was do not always land perfectly, but somehow that warms the telling leaving us no less fascinated. Gershon’s first sex talk happened when she was nine, she tells us. Grandma was fierce, self-motivated and not always living within the parameters of the law. Hey, a girl has to support herself somehow if she is not going to be relying on a man! Another woman from Gershon’s past, Marie, was such a big influence that Gershon wrote an original song, Marie, honoring Marie’s lessons to her about love, men and the magic of the Jew’s Harp. Gershon can really play that thing! Is this the secret to those fabulous lips?
Contrasting the playful storytelling, the singing is polished and complex. Gershon navigates roaming jazz melodies and her chops are sharp. I was impressed with the medley that includes a little Prince, Elvis Costello and Pee Wee King among other challenging song writers. She launches right from those vocal acrobatics into another original song she wrote titled Pretty Girls on Prozac – a commentary on ’80’s culture in a rather innovative composition.
Eli Brueggeman is on piano and he is just precious. He also has a beautifully expressive face and sings like Prince Charming. The Bassist, Brad Jones, is smooth, kool and apparently very good at hooking up the back of Gershon’s fabulous dress. I can’t criticize the dress itself, but I do wish Gershon would stop tugging at the sleeves on it. They are clearly meant to fall about her mid-upper arm exposing those wonderful soft shoulders and, for some reason she did not explain, Gershon did not like them there. Yet, there was something a bit engaging about this self-consciousness on the stage from her. It felt very intimate. And the show is about falling in and out of love, after all. And isn’t that trip about losing and finding yourself? Jerome Jennings is on drums and, when featured at the end of the show, he demonstrats that he is not at all unfamiliar with clever rhythmic stylings a la John Bonham. Yeah, I said it. Go see for yourself.
The lady of the couple with whom I became so enamored at the bar said, after the encore and Gershon left the stage that, “This is cabaret for the millennials!” Yes. I agree. The Gen X Gershon is blazing a new trail in this joint with music so well rehearsed that it occurs organic contrasted by genuine, raw and sometimes dangerous story-telling that comes in the moment from observing the room and weaving the tale just a little differently than it was done last time. Perfection is not the goal here; connection is. I gotta say, I like that.
Gina Gershon – Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues – at the Cafe Carlyle
Gina Gershon – vocals, Jew’s Harp; Steven Bernstein – Musical Director, Trumpet; Eli Brueggeman – Piano; Brad Jones – Bass; Jerome Jennings – Drums
Through June 16. The Café Carlyle is located inside the Carlyle Hotel at 35 East 76th Street in New York City. Tickets begin at $75, and can be ordered by calling (212) 744-6100 or online via Ticketweb.