David Bowie’s “All the Young Dudes” triumphantly rendered with a touch of Dixieland is one of several grand numbers in the spirited Irish-French performer Camille O’Sullivan’s engaging theatrical concert, “Where Are We Now?” in which she’s backed by a sensational band. That anthem’s familiar rousing opening notes are done justice by Omar Kabir on trumpet. Then clad in a shimmering sequined black skirt suit, black blouse and silver shoes, the long dark-haired alluring Ms. O’Sullivan sings the lyrics in her soaring gutsy voice. That’s while she is wonderfully dancing and miming all over the stage of Irish Arts Center’s $60 million new building and in the aisles.
Previously, O’Sullivan rocked with Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” Leiber & Stoller’s “Is That All There Is?” is enacted with all its grandiloquent pathos while O’Sullivan is in the bathrobe she wore during pandemic lockdown. Bowie’s “It’s Gonna Happen” and “Where Are We Now?” are given sterling treatments. The eclectic setlist also includes selections from Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen and Stephen Sondheim, with an aching “Send in the Clowns.” As it’s the season, there’s a Christmas song as well.
“Good luck to all of you who’ve never seen me before!” cracks O’Sullivan. Her impish patter and amusing free associative riffs impart biographical details and are well woven into the presentation. There’s plenty of pandemic-era observations which add timeliness. She’s also an actress and commands the stage with her feisty yet vulnerable persona.
The high caliber musicianship of Feargal Murray on piano, Paul Byrne on drums, Steve Fraser on guitar and Jessica Lurie on saxophone are a joy to experience.
A constellation of floating shaded lamps above the playing and seating areas are a key feature of Mac Smith’s visually savvy production design. There’s also a large plush chair for O’Sullivan near the piano; a platform for the band is strategically placed dead center toward the rear. The back wall occasionally displays projection designers Lisa Renkel and Brian Pacelli’s mostly subtle abstract imagery, though for “Is That All There Is?” we’re at the circus. Manuel Da Silva’s kinetic lighting design enriches the production with its striking hues. Sound engineer John Murray achieves a fine balance between a rock concert and a theater work in terms of volume. Audio of Bowie speaking and clips from movies such as Network are finely blended into the soundtrack.
Where Are We Now? is a passionate musical and personal exploration for this complex time with theatrical polish. It’s a fitting opening show for the Irish Arts Center’s lavish new building in Hell’s Kitchen.
Camille O’Sullivan: Where Are We Now? (through December 31, 2021)
Irish Arts Center, 726 Eleventh Avenue, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 888-616-0274 or visit http://www.irishartscenter.org
Running time: one hour and 45 minutes without an intermission