GETTING “OBSESSED” WITH LENA HALL

IF YOU’RE NOT OBSESSED WITH LENA HALL YET, 2018 IS GOING TO CHANGE THAT.

Lena Hall Obsessed: HedwigKnown for effortlessly blending the worlds of Broadway and rock-and-roll, Hall is kicking off this year with a groundbreaking and hugely ambitious creative endeavor. The first Friday of each month in 2018 will mark the release of a new EP in her Obsessed series on all digital and streaming platforms. Each of these EPs will pay homage to a different musical act/artist that has shaped Hall into the extraordinary performer that she is today. And what’s more, the 37-year-old will release a music video every single week of the year to accompany all 54 songs that will appear across the span of the 12 Obsessed EPs.

This month, Hall launched Obsessed with a tribute to Hedwig And The Angry Inch, the landmark rock musical for which she won a Tony Award and received a Grammy Award nomination. I spoke with the theater icon about her creative process, the various musicians she’s covering, her upcoming tour, her new film and television roles, returning to Broadway, and more.

ALEX NAGORSKI: How did you come up with the Obsessed series and what made you decide to release these EPs on an unprecedented, monthly basis? 

LENA HALL: I did a show at the Café Carlyle (in NYC) with Michael C. Hall called “Obsessed – Radiohead.” It was such a hit that I wanted to make it a series of concerts that highlighted one artist per concert. I decided that an album series was a good way to tie in the “Obsessed” concert idea and give fans around the world access to the shows in some way.

Around the same time, I did a series of videos for Complex.com called “Stripped,” where I released one video per week for 20 weeks. This was a way to give fans content and the feeling that I was singing live for them in their living room. Kurt Deutsch of Ghostlight/SKB Records came to me and offered to do a formal release for my next Obsessed album, which was announced as Hedwig.

After a meeting with Kurt and Kevin Gore, we all decided to combine the ideas of the Obsessed albums and concerts and the “Stripped” videos to make it a yearlong series. We concluded that a good way to keep people interested in the series was to do one artist per month, with the EP coming out at the beginning of the month and the sister videos coming out every week that month in support of it. Each EP (except for Hedwig) matched the month it’s released. Some EPs have four songs and some have five depending on how many Fridays are in each month.

Are all of these EPs meant to be standalone pieces or is there a larger narrative linking them to one another?

There is no larger narrative other than these are all artists I love and want to introduce to a brand new fanbase. These albums and videos are a love letter to each of these artists and bands. My personal favorites! This is just the first 12. I hope to do multiple seasons of this series!

Are you recording straight covers of the songs you’re featuring or are you reinterpreting them somehow? What does that creative process consist of?

It depends on the song. Some songs are very close, where the only difference is my own vocal interpretation. Others have been reimagined. I wanted to focus on what made the song stick out to me. The lyrics, or the chord progressions or simply the way it was sung. Sometimes I cover a song the artist covered. A cover of a cover. In this case, I did that to illustrate how someone else’s genius interpretation of a song made it iconic.

Why was Hedwig the natural choice to launch this series with? How did your experience playing the show’s titular character on its national tour (in addition to reprising your Tony-winning performance as Yitzhak) impact your approach to these beloved songs?   

We started with Hedwig because it has had the biggest impact on my life. From the first time that I saw the show and heard the album to playing Yitzhak and winning a Tony Award to finally playing Hedwig! There is no show on Earth that has had such an impact on my life. The original Off-Broadway cast recording was something I listened to, on repeat, trying to sing along wishing the songs were in my key!

The artists you’re covering include such varying acts as Elton John, Nirvana, Pink, David Bowie, and Radiohead (to name just a few). How did you go about selecting the musicians you’ll be paying homage to?

These are all artists that are markers of different stages in my life. They bring up strong memories of experiences that have shaped me into the person I am today.

Once you’ve selected the artist(s) you’ll be focusing on for each EP, how do you go about narrowing down the songs in their respective discographies to decide which ones you’ll be recording? 

I selected a few hits but also wanted to cover some of the songs that spoke to me that were more B-sides, the songs I listened to on repeat that rarely got airplay. It will hopefully inspire the listener to dig deeper into each artist’s catalogue.

Which of the series’ upcoming EPs do you think your fans will be most surprised to hear? 

I’m not sure. I think the artists themselves are a very eclectic bunch. Each one will be a surprise to someone, except for maybe Hedwig. I don’t think anyone is surprised by that choice!

You’ve also created performance music videos for all 54 songs in this series. As a performer, what role do these videos play in your Obsessed journey?

I wanted a way for fans who can’t get to my live shows to have some kind of connection to me.

Vocally and creatively, what have been the biggest challenges in the recording of this series? 

Recording the entire series in 8 days! That was the biggest challenge. To give you an idea of what that meant, we recorded from 11 A.M. – 7 P.M. for 8 consecutive days and we did about 3 takes per song, give or take. That means I sang a total of about 162 songs in 8 days. At the same time, we filmed the entire recording session for the YouTube videos.

When do you plan to release full details about your upcoming tour in support of Obsessed? And what can your fans expect from these live shows, beginning with your Rockwood Music Hall Stage show in New York at the end of January? 

We should have a full concert schedule out soon! For now, I am planning to do one show at the end of every month to celebrate that month’s artist and tease the next artist. I will also take fan requests to play some favorites from the past Obsessed albums. Hopefully, I will be able to tour most of the U.S. and Canada, as well as Europe (schedule permitting).

If another performer were to release an Obsessed: Lena Hall EP in the future, what would be on it? How do you think this musician could best capture your essence and artistry within a handful of covers? 

I’m hoping I will have some original solo material in the near future for them to cover! I would be interested to see how someone like me would influence a new artist.

Do you have any plans to return to the Broadway stage anytime soon? If not, what type of production/role would entice you to come back? 

I hope to return to Broadway very soon! Whatever it is, I will be 100% passionate about the project and I will put my heart and soul into it every single night!

Becks (which hits theaters and VOD February 9) marks the first movie in which you’re playing a leading role. What are you most excited about for when your fans see this film? 

I am excited for fans to see me in a much more intimate setting. The film is more up close and personal. I love this movie and all it stands for as well as the soundtrack. Hopefully people will relate deeply with the character I play and with the themes. We are very proud of it already winning at the L.A. Film Festival and getting such critical praise prior to the release!

Later this year, you’ll also be making your debut as a television series regular on the new TNT dystopian thriller Snowpiercer, alongside Jennifer Connelly and Daveed Diggs. What can you tease about your character, Sayori? And how will the series differ from/build upon the world introduced in the acclaimed 2013 film of the same name that it’s based on?

I can’t say much about the project because I want something to be a surprise. But I will say that, to me, Sayori is the most interesting character on the show and is the type of role I have been dying to play. The TV show will focus more on the class wars that occur within the train.

Thank you so much, Lena! I can’t wait for the remainder of the Obsessed EPs and to see you on both the big and small screens this year. Is there anything else that you’d like to add that we didn’t talk about? 

Nothing to add other than I am looking forward to getting everyone’s feedback on all my projects in 2018! Thank you!

Originally published on PopBytes

TEN MUST-SEE BROADWAY SHOWS THIS FALL!

You Can’t Take It With You

STARRING: James Earl Jones, Rose Byrne, Annaleigh Ashford, Kristine Nielsen, Fran Kranz, Elizabeth Ashley, Johanna Day, Byron Jennings, and Reg Rogers
WHEN: Now through January 4, 2015
WHERE: Longacre Theatre / youcanttakeitwithyoubroadway.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: In her dazzling Broadway debut, Rose Byrne (Damages) continues to show off the comedic chops she displayed in Bridesmaids and Neighbors. With a cast that includes screen and stage legend James Earl Jones (Star WarsThe Great White HopeFences), the always hilarious Kristine Nielsen (Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike), and a scene-stealing Annaleigh Ashford (Kinky Boots), You Can’t Take It With You is a raucous comedy about an eccentric family that clashes with the conservative and rigid parents of the daughter’s fiancée when they come to dinner on the wrong night. This revival includes everything from snakes to fireworks to Russian royalty to prison sentences to ballet dancers – what more could you ask for?
BUY TICKETS

You Can’t Take It With You

This Is Our Youth

STARRING: Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, Tavi Gevinson
WHEN: Now through January 4, 2015
WHERE: Cort Theatre / thisisouryouthbroadway.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Set in New York in 1982, this Kenneth Lonergan-written play chronicles 48 hours in the lives of three materialistic teenagers. Michael Cera (Arrested DevelopmentSuperbad) makes his Great White Way debut as Warren, a dejected 19-year-old who has just stolen $15,000 from his father, while Kieran Culkin (Igby Goes Down) plays his drug-dealing friend whose apartment acts as the show’s setting. Rookie Magazine founder and Editor-in-chief Tavi Gevinson rounds out the cast as Jessica, a fashion student that Warren tries to impress with his newfound cash. Tackling issues of adolescence against the backdrop of the Raegan era, This Is Our Youth has all the makings of a contemporary classic.
BUY TICKETS

This Is Our Youth

Hedwig & The Angry Inch

STARRING: Andrew Rannells (through October 12), Michael C. Hall (starting October 16), Lena Hall
WHEN: Now
WHERE: Belasco Theatre / hedwigbroadway.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Winner of this year’s Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, the premiere Broadway production of this rock musical tells the story of a fictional rock and roll band fronted by a transgender woman from East Berlin. Hedwig tells her story in an extended monologue, recalling a romance that never came to fruition after a botched sex change operation tore the couple apart. A thought-provoking musical with a genius score, Hedwig stars Andrew Rannells (GirlsThe Book of Mormon) through October 12, at which point Michael C. Hall (Six Feet UnderDexter) will don the illustrious wig of the title role.
BUY TICKETS

Hedwig & The Angry Inch

Cabaret

STARRING: Alan Cumming, Michelle Williams (through November 9), Emma Stone (from November 11-February 1, 2015), Danny Burstein, Linda Emond
WHEN: Now through March 29, 2015
WHERE: Studio 54 / cabaretmusical.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: This fall, Alan Cumming will be on your TV screen as the neurotic and brilliantly manipulative Eli Gold on CBS’ The Good Wife and at your local bookstore with the release of his gripping new memoir, Not My Father’s Son. But you’re not truly a fan of Cumming’s until you’ve seen his career-best performance as the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret. Reprising his Tony Award-winning role from the 1998 production, Cumming is joined in the Kit Kat Klub by Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine; Brokeback Mountain) as the self-destructive Sally Bowles. And when Williams trades in her pink boa, it’ll be picked up by Emma Stone (The HelpEasy A) – who was originally rumored to play Bowles when this revival was first announced. With an unforgettable score by Kander and Ebb, Cabaret shines a spotlight on 1930’s Berlin when sex was rampant and the darkest period in Germany’s history was just around the corner.
BUY TICKETS

Cabaret

A Delicate Balance

STARRING: Glenn Close, John Lithgow, Martha Plimpton, Lindsay Duncan, Bob Balaban, Clare Higgins
WHEN: October 20 – February 22, 2015
WHERE: John Golden Theatre / adelicatebalancebroadway.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Three-time Tony Award-winner Glenn Close (DamagesSunset Boulevard) makes her overdue return to the Broadway stage in this revival of Edward Albee’s exploration of a long-married couple during the course of a weekend when their daughter returns home after the dissolution of her fourth marriage. Meanwhile, their home also acts as a refuge for some of their friends and an alcoholic sister. And you thought your family reunions were dramatic.
BUY TICKETS

A Delicate Balance

It’s Only A Play

STARRING: Matthew Broderick, Nathan Lane, Stockard Channing, Megan Mullally, Rupert Grint, F. Murray Abraham, Micah Stock 
WHEN: 
Now through January 4, 2015
WHERE: 
Schoenfeld Theatre / itsonlyaplay.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: 
Terrence McNally’s biting, hilarious satire on the world of theater makes its Broadway debut with an all-star cast. As a panicked playwright nervously awaits the reviews of the opening night of his new show, he shares his anxieties with the production’s drug-addled lead actress, a television star, a snide critic, a first-time producer, a young director, and the coat check guy. What ensues is a chaotic, and uproarious look at what it takes to put up a Broadway production.
BUY TICKETS

It’s Only A Play

The Elephant Man

STARRING: Bradley Cooper, Patricia Clarkson, Alessandro Nivola, Anthony Heald, Scott Lowell, Kathryn Meisle, Henry Stram
WHEN: 
November 7 – February 15, 2015
WHERE: 
Booth Theatre / elephantmanbroadway.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: 
Set in 19th century England, The Elephant Man is based on the true story of Joseph Merrick, star of a traveling freak show. As Merrick’s popularity rises, he attracts the attention of a beautiful actress who’s fascinated by his story and profound intelligence. Cooper and Clarkson have both proven to be some of the most versatile screen actors around, so it’ll be exciting to see how that translates to the stage. Sorry Ryan Murphy, but this is the freak show we’re most excited about.
BUY TICKETS

The Elephant Man

Side Show

STARRING: Erin Davie, Emily Padgett, Ryan Silverman, David St. Louis, Matthew Hydzik
WHEN: October 28 – TBD
WHERE: St. James Theatre / sideshowbroadway.com
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Academy Award-winning director Bill Condon (ChicagoDreamgirls) makes his Broadway debut with this retooled musical revival based on the incredible true story of twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. Set in the 1920s and 30s, Side Show follows the sisters’ journey as they go from being vaudeville acts to glamorous Hollywood stars, all while looking for love and a sense of normalcy under the spotlight. The original 1997 production launched the careers of Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner, and based on what we’ve seen so far, Davie and Padgett seem to be on the same path.
BUY TICKETS

Side Show

Les Misérables

STARRING: Ramin Karimloo, Will Swenson, Caissie Levy, Nikki M. James, Andy Mientus
WHEN: Now – TBD
WHERE: Imperial Theatre / lesmis.com/broadway
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: Ramin Karimloo. Plain and simple, Karimloo is the most talented actor to ever take on the role of Jean Valjean. Making his Broadway debut after a successful career on the West End, Karimloo has a jaw dropping voice that makes this musical soar to breathtaking new heights (and it doesn’t hurt that he’s not upsetting to look at either). With this revival, Broadway has found a leading man who has the ability to not only make an old musical feel new and exciting again, but someone who will undoubtedly become one of the most revered stage actors of our time.
BUY TICKETS

Les Misérables

The Real Thing

STARRING: Ewan McGregor, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Cynthia Nixon
WHEN: 
Now through Jan 4, 2015
WHERE: 
American Airlines Theatre / roundabouttheatre.org
WHY YOU SHOULD SEE IT: 
This revival of Tom Stoppard’s acclaimed play-within-a-play explores what happens when life starts imitating art. A playwright who’s unhappily married to the lead in his current play about a marriage that’s falling apart starts to have an affair with their mutual friend. But as their relationship progresses, he starts to wonder where the boundaries between truth and fiction lie. A complex look into married life, this production promises to pack a punch as powerful as the performances within.
BUY TICKETS

The Real Thing

Originally published on PopBytes