leonard cohen koans
nytheatre.com review by Amber Gallery
August 23, 2011
It’s an easy task to pack the beautiful, moody venue Le Poisson Rouge for a cabaret show with "Leonard Cohen" in its title. Even on a weekday when the sun is still shining and the hour is not ideal for a cocktail. But it is a far greater accomplishment to satisfy the passionate fans that are sure to turn out to hear his words. Australia-based group ali & the thieves majorly succeeds in satisfying even the most dedicated fans by presenting a thoughtful, talent-filled and faithful lineup of Cohen’s prose and songs.
Let’s start with ali hughes, producer as well as lead vocalist. Statuesque, handsome and sexy as all hell, with a lovely deep voice and excellent range, she more than embodies the energy that one expects from an evening of Cohen. This was particularly satisfying to me, having been less than thrilled with many female covers of some of Cohen’s songs in the past. Representing the backup singers that are a staple in Cohen’s later work are two men—Marty Thomas and Chris Dilley—both with gorgeously stunning tenor voices that are the perfect complement to hughes’s huskier tone. As spot-on as their use was for this particular show, the little I heard from them made me wish I could hear a whole lot more.
Daryl Wallis (co-creator of the evening, who also plays piano and keyboard in the show) and hughes put the evening together beautifully. We begin with a short recording of the man himself from Book of Longing and hughes takes over with well known standards like "Chelsea Hotel" to lesser known songs like "The Guests," woven through and in between with some of Cohen’s poetry. The choices in lighting are fantastic and colorful and, in one of my favorite moments of the evening, they shift the glow onto the audience for one poignant rendition of "Avalanche."
ali & the thieves have plenty of opportunity to show off their chops and their own style here, but it is rarely at the expense of Cohen’s words. There were a couple of times when small words were changed, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time someone took liberties with the songs to make them work for the singer. But in many cases, it benefited or enhanced it. Their version of "I’m Your Man" was, hands down, the best cover of the song I’ve ever heard. And "Avalanche" brought a little tear to my eye. Due to the quality, I would highly recommend this show to a fan or to someone who is brand new to Cohen. And I’d definitely be drawn back in to see ali & the thieves, even without the "Cohen" in the title.