Review by Adam Feldman
“There is a crack in everything,” goes the most famous line in “Anthem,” one of several Leonard Cohen songs that Camille O’Sullivan performs in her new full-length set. “That's how the light gets in.” An Irish-French chanteuse who first caught New York’s ear in the 2006 Spiegeltent show Absinthe, O’Sullivan seems a little cracked herself: not just in her voice, which in its quieter moments has a soupçon of Marianne Faithfull grit, but in the entrancing intensity with which she throws herself into the story songs she favors. The COVID shutdown, if anything, seems to have driven her a little battier. Her show is titled Where Are We Now?, and she performs much of it as though she didn’t know the answer for certain, draping her sequined concert outfit with a loose floral housecoat as though she were still at home, puttering about an attic and conversing with its ghosts.
In fact, O’Sullivan is in the main performance space of the sleek new Irish Arts Center, which has hosted her several times in the past. But she always seems at home onstage: Musically, she lives for drama. Often that means taking songs down to a careful whisper, as in her intimate accounts of Tom Waits’s “Martha,” Dillie Keane’s “Look Mummy, No Hands,” Cohen’s heartsick “Famous Blue Raincoat” and (in a rare nod to musical theater) Stephen Sondheim’s “Send in the Clowns.” But the wary tension of these songs finds thrilling release in others that she performs at full wail, backed by a rollicking five-piece band led by Feargal Murray on piano: David Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes,” Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice,” the Pogues’ “Thousands Are Sailing.” Nothing if not eclectic, the show also includes songs by Peggy Lee, Nick Cave, Arcade Fire and the Tiger Lillies, as well as a sprinkling of Christmas tunes. In all of them, her light shines through.
Where Are We Know? Irish Arts Center (Off Broadway). Music and lyrics by various artists. With Camille O'Sullivan. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.