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Theatre Review: No Way to Say Goodbye: The Songs of Leonard Cohen at The Gladstone

By Barbara Popel on October 28, 2017

After the show, the fellow at the coat check remarked, “Gee, everybody is humming!”

Yup, this is a musical revue that will please most Leonard Cohen fans. The almost sellout audience on opening night were obviously delighted with Bear & Co.’s tribute to the late Leonard Cohen.

There’s no playlist in the program, but the cast covers many of Cohen’s most well-known songs. The ones I noted were “Everybody Knows”, “There Ain’t No Cure For Love”, “The Gypsy’s Wife”, “Tower of Song”, “Suzanne”, “Anthem”, “First We Take Manhattan”, “Boogie Street”, “Famous Blue Raincoat”, “Who Shall I Say Is Calling?”, “Like a Bird on a Wire”, “You Want It Darker”, “If It Be Your Will”, “Dance Me To the End of Love”, and, of course, “Hallelujah”, with “So Long, Marianne” reprised as an encore.

The stage is thick with musical instruments: three 6-string acoustic guitars, an acoustic bass guitar, two discrete amplifiers on stage right, a mandolin, an accordion, an upright piano, a bodhrum (an Irish drum), a flute, a tambourine, and a lot of musical noise-makers. All are used to good effect.

The four cast members are Pierre Brault, Robin Guy, Scott Richardson and Rachel Eugster.

Pierre Brault’s voice is closest to Cohen’s singing/speaking voice, though he can’t quite manage Cohen’s rumbling gravely bass notes. Of the four singers, Brault has the most impact, in large part, I think, because he’s also a trained actor. He’s also a good mandolin and guitar player. It’s always a pleasure to see Brault on stage.

Robin Guy is a close second to Brault. She has a beautiful singing voice. Coupled with her training as an actor, this lets her impart genuine feeling to Cohen’s lyrics. She’s a bit hamstrung by Eleanor Crowder, the director, who has chosen to dress her as a barefoot gypsy girl. This works when the song is “The Gypsy’s Wife”, but nowhere else. Guy not only plays guitar and piano, she also plays the flute. What a talented performer!

Scott Richardson, who did such an admirable job as the piano accompanist in last year’s Jacques Brel Is Alive…, returns to the stage as a singer and guitarist/pianist/accordionist. He has a light baritone voice and an engaging manner on stage, but sometimes had problems projecting his voice. Perhaps this is because he’s a musician, not an actor. He and Brault were the ones who elicited the most laughs from the audience. I never realized there was so much humour sprinkled through Cohen’s lyrics!

Rachel Eugster, the fourth performer, is a trained singer with a very good singing voice. Given her style of singing (rather operatic, much vibrato), I suspect much of her training has been in the classical sphere. As such, I thought that her style didn’t really suit Leonard Cohen’s songbook. She also surprised me by having difficulty projecting a few of the songs. At other times, she rather overwhelmed the other singers. For example, Guy was doing a very moving rendition of “Suzanne” when Eugster began harmonizing with her, rather too loudly but with minimal emotion. There was also an odd decision to have Eugster boom out an “angel choir” when Brault and Richardson were singing “the angels don’t pray for us” in “So Long, Marianne”. This elicited laughs from some of the audience, but I didn’t find it funny. Eugster played both the piano and the guitar during the show.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a distracting problem with the stage lighting. Although I’m pretty sure the performers were hitting their marks on stage, they were sometimes singing in shadow when at stage centre. With one exception, whenever a performer moved to stage right, he/she had to walk through shadow and usually sing in dim light for all or part of the time they were on stage right. Surprising, since the lighting designer, David Magladry, is a seasoned professional. Maybe the lighting equipment was malfunctioning on opening night.

All in all, if you love Leonard Cohen’s music, you’ll enjoy this show. And you’re sure to come away humming one of his wonderful songs.


No Way To Say Goodbye: Songs of Leonard Cohen is at The Gladstone Theatre until November 4. The performance starts at 7:30 pm and is approximately 90 minutes long, plus one intermission. Information and tickets are available online


 

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