Denise Marsa is one of a kind. She’s a force of nature, a life-affirming singer, an overwhelmingly positive presence. Fuelled by her passion, she walks on stage with total confidence. Completely at ease in the spotlight, she delivers The Pass, her own story put in music.
The show is meta in that it’s an artistic performance about the artistic career of Marsa. She offers us episodes of her life in the form of nice little vignettes, featuring acting and jokes, but mostly songs and music played by pianist Tracy Stark.
The songs are the real soul of the show, although tunes are at times reminiscent of Disney movies and the lyrics sound like simplified versions of Rent’s. The storytelling is simple, but effective. Songs simply flow out of Marsa’s life, as much as her life can be traced back and pinned down in songs – they are one and the same thing. One just feels sorry not to know the lyrics, as the temptation to sing along is quite strong.
After dealing with the first years of her career, in the second act Marsa discusses (among other things) the diseases of her cousins and the death of her mother, proving profoundly moving. There’s also touching honesty in her exploration of her love life, and in her realisation that being in a relationship was a struggle for her, but so was being alone. Her independence, confidence, and unconditional passion for music were intimidating and hard for her partners to handle, even though Marsa’s very aim in life was to share her love for music with other people. “How can you love me if you’re not loving me?”, she sings. Under the veil of glitter and naivety there are some beautifully deep gems to take home.
From a purely technical perspective, the lightning is sometimes stiff and perhaps more could be made of the visual element, which is confined to a few slides in the background cropping up here and there. The sporadic duets with Stark are wonderful, and if anything they could feature more prominently.
Nevertheless, this is a solo show with no arrogance. Marsa teaches us that ‘The Pass’ to success is actually believing in yourself and keeping positive, no matter what. Stay grateful and stay genuine, and the rest will follow.
‘The Pass’ played at the Playground Theatre until 29 September. For more information, click here.