Lena Hall isn’t your average Tony winner.
The actress and singer — who won her Tony Award and earned a Grammy nomination for her performance as Yitzhak in the 2014 Broadway revival of Hedwig and the Angry Inch — has an uncommon range among performers.
At just 7 years old, she got her first big break singing for Pope John Paul II at San Francisco’s Candlestick Stadium in front of an audience of over 50,000. She’d go on to study dance at the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts before making her Broadway debut in Cats. She’s since appeared in TV shows and films ranging from Sex and the City: The Movie to BoJack Horseman, while on stage Hall originated the role of Nicola in Kinky Boots before her Hedwig Tony win.
Now Hall, 39, can be seen belting out Meal Loaf’s most iconic hits in Bat Out of a Hell, a wild and thrilling musical based on the album of the same name by the rocker, with music, lyrics and a book by Jim Steinman.
Is this show purely for Meat Loaf fans or can folks enjoy it on their own terms?
For sure the latter. The music alone, without Meat Loaf, Jim Steinman wrote such classic songs, they hold up through time. These songs, they last a lifetime because of how they were produced, how they were written, and the stories that they tell. Even if you don’t think that you know Jim Steinman songs, or if you think that you don’t know Meat Loaf, you’ll hear some of these songs and you’ll be like, “Oh my God, I know that song. He wrote that?”
You’ll definitely recognize a lot of the music, regardless of if you know Meat Loaf or not, because Jim Simon wrote hits for Celine Dion, and all kinds of people that everyone will recognize. These are iconic songs.
What’s it like performing with a live rock band every night?
They’ve hired an incredible band that knows rock and roll, that can give you this score in its intended life. Nothing has been toned down, nothing has been pulled back. They got a rock drummer that is insane. He’s so good. They also got a percussionist, so we have a drummer and a percussionist with two guitars. They know their rock. We’ve got a female bass player who’s badass. Then, we have two people on keys that are just like … Or, three people on keys. They’re, like, dancing while they’re playing. They’re so into it. That energy, it also elevates everything, elevates the storytelling, elevates everything.
You won a Tony for a rock musical, and now you’re back in one. How would you classify yourself as a performer?
You can’t put me in a box. Technically growing up, I’m none of these. I grew up in the opera world, and I grew up in the ballet world, so complete change. Of course my parents were hippies, and were at all the rock concerts. They saw Jimi Hendrix live, saw Janis Joplin live. They were heavily into that rock genre. What they did for a living, and what I was always around, was San Francisco opera ballet. I was exposed to opera at an early age, or when I was born basically.
As far as Hedwig and Bat Out of Hell are concerned, I think that they marry these two lives that I had had before I did Hedwig. I had my theater life, but then I had my rock band. I would do musical theater in day, as my day job at night. Then, after the shows, I would rush down to the Lower East Side, and I’d do rock shows with my band. It was like leading this like double life for a minute. Then, with Hedwig, it all came together in one package that married musical theater so well with rock and roll, and classic rock too, like that Bowie vibe, that Iggy Pop vibe. That was pure wheelhouse for, me marrying the two. I get to do it again here, with Bat Out of Hell, where it’s not watered down.
You shared the stage with so many different Hedwigs over the course of your run in that show — from Neil Patrick Harris to Andrew Rannells to Darren Criss. What was that like?
It was really interesting, to be honest. When you build a show with someone, you have a really tight relationship with that person. When Neil was leaving and I was staying, I was kind of upset. I was like, “How can you leave me?” Then when Andrew came in, it was almost like, “I don’t want to change anything that I do.” I was at the mercy of each Hedwig, because whatever they do, I have to follow. That’s part of the gig — that you are their servant boy. If they change things up, you got to go with the flow. What I really learned, was after like a couple of weeks of acclimating to Andrew Rannells, who is the second one to come in, that bond, and that same relationship formed, where we were jiving. I was there for that, and I loved everything that they did. As each one came in, and there was this weird resistance to the new wife. Then, as time went by, we jived. Then, all of the fun stuff would start to happen, and it became a looser and more fun.
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I ended up loving each and every one of my stars. Each and every one of my wives is so fun. Honestly, John Cameron Mitchell, he is Hedwig, so that was really intimidating to me. Because he wrote the thing, and because it is his show, he did whatever he wanted. I was at the mercy of him, and for some reason, he felt it necessary to try and get me to break and laugh every show, which is so hard, cause he so funny.
Bat Out of Hell is now playing at New York City Center.