MONSIEUR CAMEMBERT’S LEONARD COHEN SHOW
Joan Sutherland Theatre, December 12
They dance through verse after verse, putting flesh on the despairing bones of his songs. Nancy, Suzanne and the rest could form an Old Testament litany of Leonard Cohen’s loves. But they were never notches on a gun, rock’n’roll style. Each was adored for who she was; the warmth and light she brought to his life; a smile amid the futility, and the sensual corollary of his other obsession, theology.
Cohen’s was a uniquely oblique perspective on the world, like slanted light catching dust motes and turning them into solid beams. After 14 years Monsieur Camembert’s Leonard Cohen Show is the font that keeps on giving. It still springs surprises and, thanks to leader Yaron Hallis’s choice of contrasting singers, illuminates afresh these lyrics that lift scabs on the confronting, mortifying, exultant business of being human.
Among the show’s masterstrokes was the inclusion of his poetry, whether delivered by Cohen or Hallis, plus other snippets of Cohen speaking. From these we learn it was Lorca’s work that allowed him to find his own voice; to become a chronicler who could cut through the surface inanities. “Give me anything,” he said, “but pettiness and safety”.
Hallis began with the equally sly and anthemic I’m Your Man, the aching jealousy of The Gypsy’s Wife (with a Susie Bishop violin solo to make the walls weep), and an urgent Chelsea Hotel No 2, before passing the singing baton variously to Bishop, Gregg Arthur, Angela Fabian and Abby Dobson. Fixing us with a stare, Dobson made each word of Famous Blue Raincoat give up a little drop of blood, and later shared with the convincing Arthur a potent, poignant Hallelujah. Fabian was a vivid new addition, turbo-charging Light as the Breeze and Bird on the Wire, the latter filled to the brim with Eddie Bronson’s boiling tenor saxophone.
But picking players, singers or songs as highlights is to miss the point. Once again this was a brilliant celebration of a singular artist, and the sound in Joan Sutherland Theatre was exceptional.