Gay Marshall

April 16, 2018 | By | Add a Comment

Leonard Cohen wore many coats in addition to his famous “Famous Blue Raincoat”: he was a novelist, a poet, a musician, a songwriter, a singer, an actor, and for a time, a stand-up comedian. A native Canadian, he was best known in this country as a singer-songwriter, first introduced to me (and many others) by Judy Collins in a series of seminal recordings in the late sixties and early seventies. Singer Gay Marshall came to him rather late—within the last year, in fact. Having few pre-conceived notions about him, his style, or his voice, she was particularly fascinated by the stand-up comedy coat. That fascination informs her wonderfully successful tribute to him, Back on Boogie Street – Songs of Leonard Cohen, which opened recently at Pangea; it also separates and elevates it from similar endeavors. Humor shows up in surprising places throughout the well-chosen set of songs and poetry and lightens up material that might be (and has been) excessively dour in other hands.

I would normally describe Cohen songs as an acquired taste, but as both a singer and an actress, Marshall makes them completely accessible. Great intelligence, care, and thought have gone into this show, right down to her look. She cuts a memorable figure entering in a fedora and a smart suit, carrying a snifter of Grand Marnier. She displays her enthusiasm for his work not only in her irresistible performances of the songs, but in her informative patter and the poems she scatters throughout the evening, delivering them with the same passion and wit with which she sings the songs.

The title song, “Boogie Street” (Cohen, Sharon Robinson), is an infectiously inviting welcome to the show. “I’m Your Man” is performed with such spontaneity and life that the humor shoots to the top in ways even Cohen never achieved. “Famous Blue Raincoat” proves that the singer is not only able to inhabit the idiosyncratic characters of Cohen’s universe, but she can deepen the portraits and make them even more vivid. “Dress Rehearsal Rag” is an astonishing, lacerating dive into despair and suicidal thoughts. Marshall’s acting reaches a peak in this song that few cabaret shows attempt, much less achieve. The soothing warmth of “Sisters of Mercy” makes it a wise follow-on. In “Take This Waltz,” adapted from Lorca poems, she immerses herself in the surreal imagery with ecstatic abandon.

“Anthem” is an electrifying clarion call for resistance. “Democracy” is given a gloss of the humor that fills the evening while remaining a biting indictment of the darker side of our country. “A Thousand Kisses Deep” (Cohen, Sharon Robinson) is a perfect closer for this extraordinary journey, and Marshall invests it with valedictory power while her burnished mezzo beautifully embraces the melody. Music director Ross Patterson on piano and Don Falzone on bass combine invention, power, and subtlety in perfect support of the vocals. I am not a betting man but if I were, I would lay down good money that a number of these interpretations will prove to be definitive.

Gay Marshall fills this remarkable show with beauty and ugliness, spirituality and earthiness, joy and pain, hope and despair—much like life…and much like the songs of Leonard Cohen.

Back on Boogie Street – Songs of Leonard Cohen
Pangea – April 5, 12, 19, 26

Category: Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has directed many cabaret artists, among them Darius de Haas, Andre de Shields, and Helen Baldassare. He's created several musical revues, including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George," and he has produced two Bistro Award-winning CDs. His most recent theatre credit is directing "Hamlet" at the ArcLight Theatre with Australian actor/writer Matthew Newton. He's taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London's Goldsmith College, and conducted private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he covered New York's theatre and cabaret scene for thirty years for various local publications, and for nearly ten years, he co-wrote a national entertainment column. His lyrics have been sung by several cabaret artists, and he's currently at work on a memoir of his life in the city.

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