Singer-actress Lauren Fox believes in love at first listen. That’s what happened to her when she first heard the voices of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen — whose songs she’ll sing Friday (May 5) in Olympia in her acclaimed cabaret show.
“They’re my two favorite singer-songwriters,” she said last week. “They so far surpass everything out there in the world for me. They expressed themselves on such a raw, honest level.”
She first remembers hearing their music in a record store in Los Angeles, where she moved after high school. “I was instantly obsessed,” she said. “I bought every single album.”
When she decided to create a cabaret show themed around her favorite songs, then, the only question was whose.
“I was talking to my parents, and … I said, ‘You know part of me wants to do a show about Joni Mitchell, but then another part of me wants to do a show about Leonard Cohen. And I can’t decide because I love them both so much,’ ” she recalled. “My father said, ‘Well, didn’t they date?’ And I said, ‘What?!’ ”
The pair’s relationship, in late 1967 and 1968, lasted only a matter of months, but it resonated in the lyrics of some of the pair’s best-known songs.
Among the 16 songs Fox sings in the show are Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and “Chelsea Morning” and Cohen’s “Bird on a Wire” and “Hallelujah.” Her performance of the latter in 2012 at the show’s first venue, the Metropolitan Room in New York City, got high praise from Stephen Holden of The New York Times who called her version of the oft-covered classic “the deepest and most dramatically revealing of any I’ve heard.”
Fox, who’s since developed two more critically acclaimed shows based on music of the ’60s and ’70s, has won awards from the Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs, the Bistro Awards and the Nightlife Awards. She also has a long list of film and stage credits and has stepped into filmmaking. “Atlas of the Soul,” which she wrote and will star in, is scheduled to begin filming later this year. The cast will include James Earl Jones.
Though she first remembers hearing Mitchell and Cohen in Los Angeles, she grew up listening to folk music with her dad, writer and filmmaker Ray Errol Fox. Judy Collins was a favorite.
“I think maybe the first folk album my father ever played me was (Collins’) ‘Wildflowers,’ which opens with a Joni Mitchell song and closes with a Leonard Cohen song,” she said. “I played it over and over and over.”
It felt like fate when she researched Mitchell and Cohen’s romance and learned that Collins introduced them at the Newport Folk Festival. “That made it personal for me.”
Cabaret was an early part of her life, too. Cabaret singer Andrea Marcovicci was her godmother.
She saw updating the form as a way to combine her loves of acting and singing. “I knew that I wanted to do something very different with the medium of cabaret,” she said.
That meant updating the music and telling a story for her show.
“I wanted to make it more dramatic and edgier than traditional cabaret,” she said. “A lot of people have said: ‘You’re not really a cabaret performer. Your shows are more like one-woman shows with music.’ ”
The Songs of Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen
What: Cabaret performer-actress Lauren Fox explores the music of her two favorite songwriters, and the relationship between them.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday (May 5).
Where: The Washington Center for the Performing Arts, 512 Washington St. SE, Olympia.
Tickets: $23-$34; $21-$31 for seniors, students and military; $12-$17 for youth.
Information: 360-753-8586, washingtoncenter.org.