Lena Hall: Broadway’s Anti-Type

In an industry dominated by type, Lena Hall is a new breed of actor: the everywoman. The ‘everywoman’ defies the old guard musical theatre archetypes of the ingenue, the femme fatale, the fallen woman. She exists on a constantly shifting spectrum, contains multitudes and is always reinventing herself.

Lena Hall is the perfect poster girl for this new anti-type. She can run in Manolo Blahniks and headbang in Betsy Johnson. The former ballerina wears a prosthetic penis eight shows a week. She’s deeply sincere – the kind of gal that gives a shout-out to My Little Pony in her Tony Award acceptance speech. But she can also tell you how to make a whiskey sandwich (recipe below) and moonlights as the front woman of a downtown sleaze-rock band. Unlike her ‘everyman’ counterpoint, this everywoman is far from ordinary.

Currently, Hall plays Yitzhak, a man who longs to present himself as a woman in Hedwig and the Angry Inch. “A lot of people play themselves really well,” Hall says of her many transformations, “I like playing characters where there’s very little of myself in there. I’m more interested in turning into somebody else and taking that all the way to the extreme.” She has made a name for herself – and won a Tony Award – doing exactly that. Since becoming Yitzhak, Hall says she’s become more slouchy and gruff, “I feel myself walking more aggressively. I certainly dress way down.” There is a boyish strength in her cool and casual attitude. You can see Yitzhak is in her bones. The ballerina is gone.

It’s almost a struggle to imagine Hall in her last Broadway role, the ambitious and shallow Nicola in Kinky Boots. Hall herself is earthy and warm, but she says she embraced Nicola as much as Yitzhak. “I was made up every day,” she laughed, admitting that she was as dedicated to a high-end lifestyle at that time as her character. “I bought a lot of designer stuff when I was her because that’s what her focus was, looking really chic all the time. I would wake up and say, ‘I’m going to buy a Louis Vuitton bag!’ … It sucked for my wallet.”

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Playing a man, however, has given Hall plenty of opportunities for feminine glamour. When she was invited to the Met Gala by Anna Wintour just days before the event, she immediately reached out to Zac Posen, her favorite designer. Theirs is an effortless collaboration, a sartorial romance. Hall’s tone is even dreamy while speaking of him, “Every time I’ve been into Zac Posen for an event, he has the one dress he wants me to wear and then some other options, but it’s always the dress he picked.” Hall hails the structure and detail in his designs, and proclaimed with admiration that his gowns “feel more like a suit of armor.”

As much as strength and power plays into Hall’s style, there’s an equal element of silliness and fun. Long before Hall was rubbing elbows with Anna Wintour, she was putting her creative fashion sense to use in her 70s sleaze rock band, The Deafening. She describes their music as “the kind that makes you wanna do bad things.” In addition to lending her razor-like vocals, Hall gifted the band with an inspiring aesthetic, a marriage of high fashion and the horror theatrics of Alice Cooper.

When she first joined the band, Hall dressed in “typical rock and roll,” a very standard and sexualized bad girl depiction of “super tight clothes, hooker boots, leather jacket and jeans.” Soon, however, she saw a need to distinguish The Deafening from other rock groups.

Inspiration came to her during a Betsy Johnson fashion show, in which the models walked down the runway together like prom couples, decked in wild ruffles and the bombastic color shocks Johnson specializes in. Hall saw rock and roll opportunity. She mused, “What if I was the cute adorable prom girl who goes bad? Who fights her way up to the stage to take over the prom?” She already had the Betsy Johnson dress (right next to the men’s suit). Throw in some converse sneakers and a half-empty bottle of whiskey and the death metal Buddy Holly princess was born.

The Deafening allows Hall to explore a wilder side of herself. In her acting work, Hall brings the dedication and work ethic of ballet that was instilled in her from such a young age: structure, practice, perfection, power. When she thrashes with The Deafening, she doesn’t take herself too seriously. It’s an adventure. Anything can happen. “During one song I turn into a vampire,” Hall says. She uses her false teeth from the Broadway production of Dracula to “go out into the audience and bite someone and bleed all over them.”

“It is empowering being in a rock band,” she giggles quite adorably, “You feel a level of invincibility… Until that invincibility catches up with you.” Hall confesses she gets carried away onstage sometimes. Specifically: “I’ll head bang too hard and I’ll have horrible whiplash. And it lasts for a week. I’m still finding the balance between that persona and live my regular daily life. It’s so much energy. It’s so intense.” At a show the band played on Halloween, Hall traded her converse sneakers – her usual rockstar footwear – for high heels, not for the aesthetics, but because she thought, “This will prevent me from thrashing my body too hard.” And it did. Hall applauds the stiletto, not only for its ability to moderate headbanging, but because of the spirit of confidence and authority it gives her. “When I’m in a stiletto, I feel more like a dominant figure,” she says of her favorite pair of Dolce and Gabanna heels. (There’s our warrior again.)

Hall isn’t on a mission to break down gender stereotypes – she simply doesn’t fit them, and doesn’t try to. She muddies the gap between good girl and bad girl, and even crosses genders with astounding ease. She is too vast to be categorized, “I love to expand [the audience’s] idea of what I can do.” Last month, she played a nun in a reading of the musical Galileo. Soon, she’ll perform a concert of songs by Muse – halfway through, she’ll change onstage from a woman into a man. And after that? Even she doesn’t know.

Reinvention is the new ‘type.’ And Broadway’s brightest chameleon, Lena Hall, is ready for her next evolution.

Whiskey Sandwich
Directions: take a shot of whiskey in between two shots of whiskey.
Ingredients: 3 shots of whiskey.

Styled by David Withrow. Makeup by Steve Schepis. Hair styling by Geo Brian Hennings.