’Desperate Housewives’ Emily Bergl plays the Rrazz Room
There are so few things to be sure of, but Desperate Housewives star and cabaret headliner Emily Bergl knows one of them. "I feel very confident that there is no one else who does Cyndi Lauper as Elaine Stritch," Bergl said from New York in anticipation of her July engagement at the Rrazz Room.
Costumed for the number in Stritch-evoking long-tailed shirt and black stockings, Bergl turns "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" into an homage to the iconic tough-cookie performer. Bergl performs the number as part of her NY I Love You cabaret show coming to SF following its Cafe Carlyle debut in May. The New York Times described Bergl as "fearless, talented, and whip-smart." The Daily News called her "nuts."
Bergl, who played doe-eyed prison-bride Beth Young on Desperate Housewives, is content to live with the catchall "quirky" as a descriptor. "Within ’quirky’ I can do a million different characters," she said. "To me, cabaret has to be like a play or a musical. It has to have an arc. It has to have different characters. It’s putting on a whole show."
She may be a flapper singing Rodgers and Hart’s "Manhattan," a Doris Day-style band singer interpreting John Lennon’s "(Just Like) Starting Over," or a tuxedo-clad chanteuse spitting out Johnny Cash’s "Folsom Prison Blues." And she loves putting seemingly incongruous songs into unlikely segues: "Someday My Prince Will Come" leads into Lou Reed’s "I’m Waiting for the Man," which becomes Prince’s "I Wanna Be Your Lover." In the end, the imagined dreamboat turns out to be a drug dealer.
"Nobody wants to see another person just sit on a stool and sing the same old songs for an hour unless they are really fucking good," said Bergl, who laughed when it was suggested that her live CD recorded at the Algonquin Hotel’s Oak Room may be the only album recorded at the storied boite that comes with an "explicit" warning on iTunes. That show was titled Kidding on the Square, which brought her to the Rrazz Room last year, and where she met her boyfriend, the SF bassist Daniel Fabricant, with whom she has a bi-coastal relationship. Fabricant will again be on bass, with G. Scott Lacy at the piano.
Bergl grew up in the Chicago area, and already had her Actors’ Equity card by the time she graduated from college in 1997. She headed straight to New York, and by 1998, she had landed her first Broadway gig. Hollywood provided her with a big break in 1999 as the star of The Rage: Carrie 2. The following years brought recurring roles on such TV series as The Gilmore Girls, Men in Trees and Southland, but her season on Desperate Housewives kicked up her public profile to a degree that surprised even her.
Playing the oddly malleable wife of Wisteria Lane pariah Paul Young is directly tied up with her cabaret work. Desperate Housewives creator Marc Cherry was in the audience at a benefit cabaret performed by members of LA’s Antaeus Theatre and was taken with Bergl’s rendition of Noel Coward’s "Mad About the Boy." He then became the winning bidder for a prize that included a fondue dinner with Bergl. "He got the fondue, and he said he was going to write a part for me on Desperate Housewives called the Fondue Nazi, but I ended up playing Beth Young instead. I was supposed to die after five or six episodes, but I got a stay of execution.
"That the song went over so well gave me a lot of confidence to do a cabaret show," she said, "and then having the role on Desperate Housewives made people want to come see my cabaret work, which I call my passion project." Another Bergl passion is Habitat for Humanity, and she will be hammering nails in Haiti with Jimmy and Roslyn Carter in November.
TV and movies help underwrite the passion projects, and her next big-screen gig is the new Woody Allen feature set to film in New York and San Francisco in the coming months. She knows nothing about her role except the character’s name, which she didn’t want revealed, knowing Allen’s penchant for secrecy.
"When you audition for Woody Allen you don’t do anything, which is kind of liberating," she said. "I met him for 25 seconds, didn’t perform a word of dialogue, and got the part. I think my part shoots only in New York, which makes me sad because I don’t get to come back to San Francisco, but not too sad because I’m in a Woody Allen movie."
Emily Bergl will perform NY I Love You at the Rrazz Room through July 29. Go to www.therrazzroom.com.