She has the understated singing style of country star Kitty Wells, the melancholy pang of Patsy Cline, the spiky hair of Zac Efron -- his wardrobe, too -- the admiration of Tony Bennett (he's called her "the best singer of her generation") and the lowercased chutzpah of e.e. cummings. That last clue is, of course, a dead giveaway that we could only be talking about singer-songwriter k.d. lang.
The four-time Grammy winner has been crossing boundaries -- or stretching them -- since first venturing from her native Canada to make a splash on the U.S. country charts in the late 1980s. Her 1992 hit "Constant Craving," from her platinum-selling "Ingenue" album, soared on the pop charts. And a decade later, she was crooning jazz standards alongside Bennett for their hit duets album, "A Wonderful World."
Now, she's making her Broadway debut, replacing Fantasia Barrino as special guest vocalist in "After Midnight," the intoxicating reincarnation of the Cotton Club at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, complete with onstage big band (Wynton Marsalis' Jazz at Lincoln Center All-Stars) and high-octane dance numbers. Lang appears in the show Tuesday through March 9. She spoke with Newsday contributor Joseph V. Amodio.
What made you say yes to this?
I said no at first. I've never been interested in Broadway. I don't know anything about it. Obviously, a lot of the music I listen to has a Broadway connection -- the American Songbook, the great singers. But it's never been a goal. I've never seen a Broadway play. Only the opening of "After Midnight." Oh -- actually, I did see something ... I take that back.
"Wicked." In L.A. I was very flattered by this offer. They came back in a month and said ... are you sure? We really want you.
That's always nice.
Really, really nice. They assured me they wanted me for me. That I didn't have to put on a show I didn't feel comfortable with. And the fact that the big band is onstage -- it's great. It's taking me out of my comfort zone. It's like an education. I'm going to Broadway school, but in the best possible way.
Which of your songs poses the greatest challenge?
Ummm. They're all challenging in different ways. My favorite is "I Can't Give You Anything But Love." I think there are heavy expectations with "Stormy Weather." I may just completely bomb.
I don't think it's a huge ballad. It's a ballad, but an introspective one.
You mean you don't feel the lyrics the way we often hear 'em sung, that big, soaring, "DON'T KNOW WHYYY ...?"
Yeah. That doesn't make sense to me.
To you, it's a quiet song.
Yeah. [She chuckles] You're alone, and it's raining and miserable. I dunno ... I'm gonna give it my best shot.
How about the scatting? What's the secret to a great scat?
Don't do it -- unless you're Louis Armstrong or Ella Fitzgerald. For me, they're the only two people in the world who should be legally allowed to scat. And they're both dead. I may improvise on [the Cab Calloway number] "Zaz Zuh Zaz," but I'm not gonna scat.
Fantasia scats a bit.
Yeah ... which is great. That's awesome if she has the confidence to do that. I just ... I'm not an R&B singer. Never have been, never will be.
Hey, I saw you tweeting about an app -- "Stop Breathe & Think." Have you actually used it ... in New York?
Sure. On the subway, even. You can do a five-minute meditation -- just put your headphones on, follow the instruction, and it literally resets your mood. I've been involved with the mother organization, Tools for Peace, and their app is a condensed form of guided meditation. It's fun, easy. I generally meditate before performances. It's like a fast track to ... quote, unquote ... "the zone." It helps me focus, and not get caught up in the extraneous whirlwind of showbiz and critics and my own insecurities.
That's great. I could use a little of that myself.
Yeah, try it. You'd be shocked....
I suppose there's nothing more satisfying for a singer than performing with a big band like the All-Stars. It's getting more and more rare to hear a band of that size on Broadway.
The energy of having those people onstage collaborating on a moment is super-powerful. It's like sports, how you pass the ball around. How one guy will do something miraculous, and it lifts the whole team up. To me, it is sports. Artistic sports.
So you'll be living here for a bit.
I am. I'm currently living in New York City.
That blows your mind. Need to meditate?
Yeah ... where's my app? Where's my app??!!
Well, it'll be a fun adventure.
It will. I'm really excited, and I'm happy I said yes.