There’s multitasking, and then there’s Lena Hall multitasking. When the actress was cast as Yitzhak in Hedwig and the Angry Inch opposite Neil Patrick Harris, she also happened to be in the hit Broadway show Kinky Boots. And that meant that her schedule became a cyclone of activity. “These were probably some of the craziest days I’ve had,” she explains. “I was rehearsing Hedwig during the day, then performing in Kinky Boots at night, and after that, doing gigs with my band. (Hall regularly plays with her head banging, ferociously energetic band The Deafening).
To see just how crazy those days were, we had Hall walk us through a two-show day when she morphed from being a Croatian masculine man (Hedwig) into a British girly girl diva with six inch heels (Kinky Boots). Afterward, she high-tailed it downtown to play a special gig with Harris and the rest of the Hedwig cast. “I know it seems totally crazy, and felt insane, but all in all it was worth it,” she says. “I would much rather be working than doing anything else.” It does seem like it was worth it: Hedwig and the Angry Inch opened to rave reviews.
Things are likely to get even busier for Hall as well, since she can now add “Tony nomination” to her list of 2014 accomplishments. She was nominated for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, while her co-star Harris earned a nod for Best Actor in a Musical and Hedwig for Best Musical Revival.
I get up at 9, but I usually snooze until 9:30. My dog, Gretta Garbone (a teacup Maltese that weighs approximately four pounds), usually licks me awake and then goes back to sleep because she likes to sleep in. I took a shower and picked out my outfit for the special singing gig that I was doing with the Hedwig cast that night at Rockwood Music Hall. Usually, when I play with my band, The Deafening, I pack my bag of tricks, which includes a big fluffy cupcake dress, a little sailor outfit, vampire teeth, mustaches, a police hat, handcuffs, a nun’s habit, devil horns, CDs to sell and other stuff. Today was a little easier, and I only had to pack a bag full of girly hair stuff and accessories and spent the good part of the morning trying to pick an outfit. After throwing multiple outfits on and off I just gave up and wore jeans and a t-shirt and packed some really spiked rock shoes.
For some reason, and it’s embarrassing, I have a horrible addiction to Dunkin’ Donuts. In the morning I must have my large, unsweetened ice tea, an order of hash browns, and a bacon, egg and cheese Wake-Up Wrap. I’m trying to kick it. But it’s just so convenient. So I stop there before getting on the train from Brooklyn.
I eat my breakfast on the platform because I know how annoying it is to eat hot food on a train. So I try to eat it on the platform, but if my train comes immediately then I’ll wait to eat while I’m walking to work. But usually it gets cold.
I got to rehearsal for Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the New 42nd Street Studios. I play a man in the show and our director, Michael Mayer, doesn’t like it when I look like a girl in rehearsal. So for rehearsals, I have to wear male drag. I paint gigantic eyebrows and sideburns with mascara and put up my hair in a do. At New 42, they decided to set up the entire band — all sound, everything — in those gigantic rooms. So the sound was so incredibly loud. I can’t even imagine how upset the people next door, or the people above or below us, were. We were so loud. You put a rock band in one of those huge cavernous rehearsal rooms and it’s going to be insanely loud. To warm up with the band we sang songs that we were going perform later that night at the gig and weren’t from Hedwig, like Girls Got Rhythm (AC/DC) and White Punks On Dope (The Tubes).
About half an hour in, and we started slowly running through Hedwig. We went through the dialogue and songs. We walked through the general outline of the show, and what our blocking might be.
For lunch, with my full drag stuff on, I went to Juice Generation. I guess it’s a better habit to have than Dunkin’ Donuts. Juice Generation is all raw food and balances out what I had earlier. I got a kale avocado salad with kale massaged in avocado, carrots, sunflower seeds and raisins and an olive oil and lemon dressing. It’s light, but delicious, and feels good to eat. And then I went back to Dunkin’ Donuts and get another iced tea. We all go out, bring back our food and eat outside of the rehearsal studio. Some cast bonding goes on.
After lunch we all came back in for rehearsal and finished where we left off, which was about halfway through the show. Rehearsals have been like an open playtime for us to get our relationships together. We see where we naturally go in the room. Later on in the process it’s more honed in. But the initial process tells you a lot about what you understand about the piece as an actor. We did some scenes, then we’d stop, and our director Michael would say “I really liked that.” Or, “What if we tried doing this?” Or, “What feels good for you?” At the end of rehearsal we all stayed and ran through the set that we were performing that night with Stephen Trask, Neil and the band.
We actually ran over because we were singing through the set. I had an 8pm Kinky Boots show. I ran back to Juice Generation and I got another one of those salads, because they taste so good, and feel really good. And I got a Ginger Fix, which is an almond milk and ginger. It’s really good for you, and hot. Oh, and mind you I’m still in male drag looking bizarre.
I ran over to Kinky Boots and took off all my man drag stuff. I washed my face, ate my salad, drank my drink and talked to my dressing room floor mate, Annaleigh Ashford. We always have a long 20 minute chat session. And then we always end up being late getting ready for Kinky Boots because we would be talking and talking. We’re gabbers. And Marcus Neville, who plays George in Kinky Boots, came to my room. He always picks up the guitar hanging in my room and he plays songs for me. He loves to play The Beatles “Don’t Let Me Down” and I sing along. It’s chill and fun. Then I put on all of my fabulous, pretty, female lady makeup, to play Nicola.
It took me about 15 minutes to put on all of that makeup because it’s so routine. I’m really good at the girly face. But for Hedwig, now, it takes me about an hour to put on my man makeup. It’s just a much different beast. It’s so hard to look natural with all that shading on your face. With the man make-up I look in the mirror and think, God, I look so dirty. It’s a delicate thing. You want just enough shading so that you look like you have a harder jawline, and look more square in the face. Your eyebrows are bigger, but they look like natural eyebrows. You have a certain expression on your face. It’s more delicate than just following my own girly features, which is just frickin’ eyeliner, eyebrows and eyelashes.
It was time to get on my wig, which takes about two seconds. And then I got dressed and started the show at 8:00. Just a couple hours ago I was a Croatian masculine man, who is also a roadie. His accent is a little Slovakian, but tiny bit lighter. And then I was about to go on stage and be this girly girl, with six inch heels, perfect hair, makeup and complete utter British accent that is a cross between a Northampton and a proper London, upper class accent. Nicola wants to be upper class but reverts back into her country accent every once in a while when she’s mad.
During the show I had some extra down time so I tweeted about my gig later that night. I wear hair extensions when I do gigs. So during the show I curled my hair extensions. When my curly real hair comes out of my wig cap and put in my extensions, my hair matches. And so I curled and spraying them, and prepping them during the show. And I laid all my clothes and jewelry out so that I could change into them right after the show since my gig is at 11:00 downtown.
After the show, I got undressed and dressed as fast as possible. When I’m playing in a gig, I always feel like I have to get there as fast as possible to make sure everything is okay. But rock-n-roll never starts on time. I did my hair in my dressing room, signed some autographs at the stage door on my way out and RAN down to meet all the Hedwig people at The Thompson hotel, which is next door to the Rockwood Music Hall. They knew how tight my time was between each show so they were nice enough to have a car service take me down.
They had reserved a room for us to get ready for our gig. I got my make-up touched up by the amazing Mike Potter. I said “hello” to everyone and pep talked Neil a little. I couldn’t believe it, but Neil was a little nervous. He had never performed with a rock band in a small venue before so he was a little nervous about the crowd being so close and about the sound and remembering his lyrics. I was the same way about remembering lyrics to the songs. I always have a rush of nerves before I perform anything new because I’m so nervous about lyrics.
The band and I gathered together below the stage for a shot of whiskey, a pow wow and a picture. When we hit the stage the venue was insane. The crowd was massive and packed and loud. The rest of the night is a bit of a blur but I do remember looking over at Neil after we had finished the show and the exhilaration and excitement in his eyes was intoxicating.
When we got off the stage Neil said “let’s do it again!” We all congratulated each other and I went into the crowd to say hello to some of my guests, which included my sister Calli and my manager Robyn as well as my good friends Holly Knight and Constantine Maroulis. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay too late and party too much because I had a matinee the next morning. So I kept it short and sweet and took a cab home.
When I got home, I ate scrambled eggs and some toast. I played with my dog and I gave her a peanut butter pill, which is very important, because she’s got a heart murmur. She has to take four pills two times a day every day. I made up a song to get her excited about taking the pills and sing it to her before every “Peanut Butter Pill Time!”
I washed my face, brushed my teeth, changed into something comfortable and passed out.