Lena Moy-Borgen’s “It’s a Man’s World— Gender Studies…but with Show Tunes”

June 6, 2023

The implicit and explicit sexism and misogyny in the worlds of Broadway and pop music is certainly a timely concern in this age of “me too,” MAGA madness, and ex-Presidential convictions. Singer Lena Moy-Borgen used that concern as the inspiration for her latest show, It’s a Man’s World—Gender Studies…but with Show Tunes), which she presented at Don’t Tell Mama. Moy-Borgen has an energetic, crowd-pleasing dynamism and a promising way with lyrics and melody (except for an unfortunate problem with pitch in her lower register that could be remedied with some work). 

The show opened with a “Golden Age” medley, with examples drawn from South Pacific, The Music Man, Mack & Mabel, My Fair Lady, and Follies.  Pop and Disney medleys followed.  Sometimes when it comes to a good idea, however, less is more. Not everything needs to be developed into a whole show but can be better served as a segment in a larger, unrelated show—brief, to the point, manageable. Moy-Borgen had so little to offer about the premise and the songs beyond her one big idea that the material quickly became repetitive. When presenting comedy, satire, or social commentary a vital lesson to learn is that a sledgehammer is rarely as effective as a scalpel, but the singer went the sledgehammer route at pretty much every turn. While I am sure her intention was to show how pervasive the problem is, the medleys highlighted that sameness of the content. 

Lena Moy-Borgen (Photo: Helene Blumfield)

‘A stronger, more powerful argument might have been made if some of the choices were sung in context, in character, and in their entirety so that the audience could see how insidious and inviting the songs were in their original form.  She sounded great on a lot it, but she didn’t give herself a chance to be in the moment on any of them. The song snippets were “footnoted” with her expressions, her physicality, and her patter. Her attack was relentlessly aggressive; it seemed like she never stopped to breathe; it was push, push, push. 

She did not trust the audience (or, ultimately, herself) with the material. Her performance philosophy seemed to be: If there is a sexist lyric in a familiar song don’t let the audience discover it on their own—always shove it in their faces; make sure to grimace or make funny faces as you sing and phrase the questionable lyrics so that there is no doubt how woke you are; and constantly interrupt with patter to state and overstate your theme. As it went on, I half expected the audience to release a loud sigh of “We get it!”

And then, about two-thirds of the way in, the show took a turn. The singer moved her focus to positive and aware material to contemplate its effect on the world, and especially on her children.  Perhaps a touch of maternal energy was needed all along—cracks in the “woke” armor of her performance began to appear and she transformed from a lecturer to a storyteller communicating her doubts, fears, joy, and pride. Not all the songs in this section were the perfect vehicles for her ideas but they offered refreshing contrast to what had come before.  A few, like “Defying Gravity” (Stephen Schwartz, from Wicked) and “Let It Go” (Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez, from Frozen) seemed to have been included to give the singer the opportunity to wail on them rather than to further the message of the show, but that’s a forgivable cabaret sin.  

A closing medley of “I Enjoy Being a Girl” (Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein, from Flower Drum Song) and “I’m Just a Girl” (Gwen Stefani, Tom Dumont) was the most interesting use of a medley, and the most eye-opening, straight-forward contemplation of the avenues that might have been explored in It’s a Man’s World with more thought and care.  Music director Katy Pfaffl was excellent throughout and offered musical and emotional colors which the singer failed to utilize. It will be interesting to see Lena Moy-Borgen in a future show minus the soapbox. 


Presented at Don’t Tell Mama, 343 W. 46th St., May 4, 18, & 25.


About the Author

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”