Call Answered: Gay Marshall: "Back on Boogie Street" at Pangea
I will never forget Gay Marshall's performance in the Zipper Theater's revival of Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris in 2006, which also starred Natascia Diaz, Robert Cuccioli and Rodney Hicks.
I am beyond excited I finally get to interview the great Gay Marshall as she readies for the premiere of her brand-new show, Back on Boogie Street, celebrating the music of Leonard Cohen! What I learned most from this interview is that Gay LOVES what she does and when she puts on a show, she DOES the pre-work!
Back on Boogie Street will play in the East Village's favorite supper club Pangea (178 2nd Avenue, between 11th & 12th Street) every Thursday in April. April 5, 12, 19, and 26 all at 7:30pm. Click here for tickets!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a performer? Ever since I can remember I wanted to be an actress. When I was in the second grade I was a very convincing "Wicked Witch of the West." Then I saw a live production of My Fair Lady on my 9th birthday. That was it – I had to be in that world. When we left the theatre, there was no question of me doing anything else in my mind. My parents weren’t exactly thrilled with my resolve.
2. This April you are bringing your new show Back on Boogie Street to Pangea, celebrating the genius of Leonard Cohen. What are you looking forward to most about presenting this show? I’m excited about getting to work with Ross Patterson again on this material that is so poetic and bold. And singing to an audience which changes everything. Plus I love the club Pangea, whose owners Stephen and Arnoldo, welcome artists like family. It’s such a great place and the food is great too!
3. How long did you spend putting this show together - from idea to inception? Now, that it's almost showtime, how does it feel to be at this phase? I began immersing myself in his work six months ago, unaware of breadth and depth of the task at hand. Many interviews, documentaries, records and poems later I am so glad I chose to do this. I feel like I’ve been in the company of a fascinating, unpredictable, funny, scary genius/sage for half a year. His body of work is so voluminous that the choices of what to do were overwhelming. I learned so many songs that I had to cut, and poetry and prose I so wanted to include that just didn’t fit. Now that it’s together, I just hope people come and love it. I’m excited and very nervous. That’s how I feel at this stage: Excited and Nervous.
4. What did you learn about Leonard's music after studying it so closely, that you didn't know beforehand? I knew almost nothing about him. To be honest, I wasn’t really interested. I had this impression that he was a depressing little man (!) … and then I heard my friend and fabulous singer Carol Lipnik do one of his songs. I thought she had written it and when I found out it was Leonard I got real interested. I wanted to plunge into a project that didn’t resemble anything I’ve done in the past. I found out he was funny, shy, insecure and really brave. The variety of his styles and melodies surprised me, as did his collaborations with other musicians such as Sharon Robinson, who is not only a divine singer songwriter apart from her work with Cohen, but a master at providing him with just the right melodic mood for his lyrics. When you look at songs he wrote in the early 90’s and how pertinent they are today, you’re pretty sure he was clairvoyant. He is definitely full of surprises. I learned a lot.
5. Leonard Cohen started out as a successful author of poetry and novels, and at the age of 33 directed his attention to writing and composing songs. Similarly, after playing "Diana Morales" in A Chorus Line on Broadway, you moved to Paris. What made you want to move to Paris? What did you find there that New York was not offering? I loved doing A Chorus Line here in New York (New York is my favorite place in the world), but my obsession with Edith Piaf drove me overseas! I had already learned many of her songs, but I wanted to learn to speak French as well as sing it. When I had the opportunity to live in Paris for a while, I jumped on it - not only to learn the language, but more importantly, to research Piaf first hand so I could do a show about her. Turned out to be a pretty good idea!
6. When did you decide to come back to New York? What was it like when you returned? Did you feel out of sorts or like you came back home? I was lucky to get work back here with two theatre giants : Stephen Schwartz and Joe Stein, thanks to Gordon Greenberg who was directing The Baker’s Wife at Goodspeed. I was dying to work the way we do here in NY. There is an urgency here to get it right and be the absolute best you can be that is so motivating. My many theatrical experiences in Paris were very different. I will never forget that first table read at Goodspeed. It was thrilling. I was definitely home!
7. I had the great pleasure of seeing you in the Zipper Theater's revival of Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris. What is one funny story from that show you can share with us about your time in that show? We had a wild musical director who played with great gusto and often broke piano strings. When that happened, he never stopped playing. With one hand he would tear open the bottom panel, rip out the broken string, slam the panel back into place and carry on! I was usually perched near him and that was fun to watch. It was hard to keep a straight face.
8. In that show you sang "My Last Supper." If you knew you were having your final meal, what would it be? I never eat what I really WANT to eat. I’m so healthy/boring. (I was a fat kid - never goes away!) But hey, if it was the LAST, I guess I’d either binge on potato chips (kettle/sea salt), Snickers, Oreos, and forbidden stuff like that OR go the more elegant route and hit Le Café de la Butte on rue Caulaincourt in Paris and leave it up to Frederic, who would provide a sumptuous many course treat along with a fountain of champagne. And (of course) a large Grand Marnier to top it off.
9. In 2015, you took part in It Was A Very Good Year at Carnegie Hall. If you had to describe one year as "A Very Good Year,' what year would you say that statement is true for and what made that particular year so good? There have been many! But the first ones that come to mind are the years I spent at the Bristol Old Vic Theater School in England, studying acting with brilliant teachers. It was part of the training to go and see great actors on stage in great plays. Dream come true.
10. Since your new show is called Back on Boogie Street, what is a place you'd love to go back to and just dance? Oooo – there are a few, but actually, I love a rehearsal studio. I think that’s my favorite place to be. Or on stage…..so how about the Shubert Theater? That would be swell!
More on Gay Marshall:
Gay Marshall starred as "Diana Morales" in A Chorus Line on Broadway, a role she left to move to Paris where she married photographer and Man on Wire accomplice, Jean Louis Blondeau. She originated the role of "Grizabella" in the French production of Cats. Her one-woman show, If I Were Me…, was voted #2 On The Fringe at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Marshall’s first show about Édith Piaf (of whom she is considered a foremost interpreter), La Vie l’Amour, played successful engagements at The Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival, Dayton’s Victory Theater and The Missouri Rep. Marshall’s Fringe show, and runs in The Baker’s Wife at Goodspeed, The Papermill Playhouse and The York Theatre led her back to New York, where she re-captured the attention of New York audiences with her performance in the Zipper Theater’s revival of Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris. Gay has two solo CDs, Go Back Where You Stayed Last Night, an Ethel Waters inspired selection of 20’s 30’s New Orleans style blues and jazz tunes, and Gay Marshall sings Piaf La Vie L’Amour, which hit the Billboard Top World Album chart as a #12 Hot Shot debut.
Marshall has starred in Night of A Thousand Judys, Piaf: A Centennial Celebration at Town Hall, It Was a Very Good Year at Carnegie Hall, and Edith Piaf: An All Star Celebration at Feinstein's/54 Below. Her shows, Gay Marshall Sings Piaf La Vie L’Amour and Gay’s Paree have enjoyed overwhelming critical success in NYC clubs.