THEATRE OF VAIN “People didn’t really know what to do with me because I’m blonde and I’m from Ohio and I have a really big voice,” says Halle Petro.
As an actor-turned-songwriter trying to find success fronting a band, Halle Petro knows that jumping into the new world of music, with its über-knowledgeable geeks and coarsely seasoned players, makes her feel a little "uncool." But for those looking for music with a little more heart to it, maybe a little bit of "uncoolness" isn't such a bad thing.
A life-long music lover, Petro's relationship with musical theater is something that would have most pop-rock fans looking for the exits. Even her iPod has jazz hands — putting the likes of Adam Guettel (grandson of Broadway titan Richard Rodgers) next to Muddy Waters and Stevie Nicks. But without the golden age of musical theater and Broadway songwriting, there would be no Beatles, no Motown, no Spector, no Hank Williams, no nothing really . . . except for maybe Kid Rock.
Petro's not ashamed of her love of musicals. If anything, her self-released debut album with her NYC-based Halle & the Jilt, Lucky You, shows an artist with a unique musical innocence and lack of snobbery, one not afraid to mix her fun, curious spirit with Broadway's trademark crispness. Far from the fanzines and message boards of the indie-underground, Petro was never going to make a very good mix tape — but she always knew that she could sing.
"I never felt successful as an actor," she says on the phone from New York. "People didn't really know what to do with me because I'm blonde and I'm from Ohio and I have a really big voice. According to the industry, I don't sound like what I look like. You have to fit into the costume."
Now in her 30s, Petro remembers her 20s as a decade of walking into endless audition rooms and leaving empty handed. If Petro did look like what she sounded like, she would probably have been a cross between a middle-aged soul singer with lots of really nice jewelry and a hippie-poet swaddled in denim. Unfortunately these weren't the parts that she was trying out for.
Luckily for Petro, her new career in music was a good fit. Like zillions of other girls with dreams of the stage, roles in Off Off Broadway productions came (The Burnt Part Boys, Fugitive Songs), but the big Broadway role never materialized. Theater in New York was a waiting game; music, on the other hand, turned out to be something that Petro could pursue in the here and now, nestled snuggly in her newfound spot between the drink-clinking lounge crowd and the more subdued coffee-shop scene. "If I had gotten that one Broadway show," she jokes, "what would I be now other than unemployed, waiting for the next thing?"
Inexperienced with arranging music but entrenched in New York's supportive artistic community, Petro hooked up with pianist Karen Dryer (musical director of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee), who in turn arranged Petro's melodies for performance. A simple enough plan, if you can fake it 'til you make it. What music offered was liberation from the petty scrutiny of the audition room. "I don't walk into a room and see a staff of people sitting behind a table seeing girls all days deciding what my fate is," she says. "I don't want to wait for something to happen."
HALLE & THE JILT + DAVID MAXWELL + KELLY ROBERGE PRESENTS + CINDER CONK | Lilypad, 1353 Cambridge St, Cambridge | November 18 @ 6 pm | All Ages | $10 | 617.385.1393