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Lea DeLaria: Play It Cool

Lea DeLaria is proving difficult to categorize. Considering her bravura portrayal of Hildy the tough-talking, sweet-hearted cabby in the 1997 revival of On the Town, and her gender-bending vivacity in the Broadway reinterpretation of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, it’s reasonable to think of her as a terrific actress who can sing. Based, however, on her debut vocal album, Play It Cool (Warner Bros. 9 47993-2; 51:17), it’s equally fair to consider her a terrific singer who can act.

On Cool, DeLaria attacks a dozen show tunes, shifting effortlessly between the old, new, familiar and obscure. Swinging through an unorthodox opener, “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd,” she gears down into an appropriately menacing “Cool” from West Side Story, then revs up again for a light-hearted romp across “I’ve Got Your Number.” After preserving a couple of worthy tracks from The Wild Party and having a gay old time with Faust’s “Life Has Been Good to Me,” she leverages Anthony Newley’s “Once in a Lifetime” against an unashamedly lustful reading of Sondheim’s “Losing My Mind.” Combining the brass ballsiness of Ethel Merman, the kitten-with-a-whip sass of Peggy Lee and the showmanship of Sammy Davis, DeLaria is a worthy heir to the Broadway-Vegas axis. More important, she is a bracing-and very welcome-blast of fresh air.

Originally Published