On the Dramatis Personae page of Sarah Ruhl’s How To Transcend a Happy Marriage, the character of Pip is described as “a beautiful woman in her late twenties” who “can dance and sing and slaughter animals.” I asked Lena Hall, who plays Pip, about that characterization. “It’s unusual but incomplete,” she replied. “Pip dances and sings. But everything – from dancing and singing to pole dancing and hunting – stems from a spiritual place for her.”
Hall, who grew up in San Francisco and made her Broadway debut in Cats and originated the role of Nicola in Kinky Boots, said that Pip is trying “to turn off all the unimportant things and try to listen to what she really wants. That helps explain her attraction to nature – it helps her escape some of the external noise.”
One of the highlights of Hall’s performance is the singing of a classic folk tune as part of a karaoke songfest. (I’m not going to spoil the surprise by revealing which one.) “I do it a little differently every day, though it’s easy to revert to my rock n roll voice, which is a place of comfort for me.”
That rock voice has earned her acclaim. For the role of Yitzhak, in the 2014 Broadway production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Hall received a Tony Award. When the staging played San Francisco, last year, Hall became the first person to play both Hedwig and Yitzhak in the same production.
If Hall is known best for her rock ‘n roll turns and would like to play a rock icon (Grace Slick or Courtney Love) someday in a biopic, she has extraordinary versatility in musical styles. “I enjoy doing it all,” she said. “When I sing material outside my usual range, I exercise the parts of my voice that are weaker.”
One especially strenuous workout came during Hall’s engagement, in 2015, at New York’s Café Carlyle, a gig that produced her album “Sin & Salvation.” “I had bronchitis the whole time,” she said. “For part of the two weeks, I had essentially lost my speaking voice. But I went to the doctor, who said I had no nodes or swelling, so I was able to go on.”
More recently, Hall combined rock and pop stylings in the New York reading of an in-development musical about Cher. No word yet about the production’s future; Hall said, “I had a great time, and the reading was in line with that dream of mine to play an icon, onstage or onscreen.”
In the meantime, Hall admires the range of styles of the Ruhl play. “Sarah continually surprises with the directions she takes an audience. Everything is going along realistically and then something extraordinary happens. It’s magical.”
Brendan Lemon is the editor of lemonwade.com.