Home > Past Buzz > Remembering Levy: Colgate Honors a Cultural Icon
By May, Andrew Published: Friday, February 4, 2005
On Saturday evening, Colgate students, professors and alums gathered together in Brehmer Theater to listen to a reading of a play entitled A Cold Shattered Light to honor the memory of Jacques Levy, who headed Colgate's Theater department for 12 years. Levy, who died of cancer in September, was regarded as one of popular culture's renaissance men, known for his work as a Broadway director and for his lyrical collaborations with Bob Dylan and Roger McGuinn of the Byrds.
Although Levy's influence at Colgate was incredibly profound, his legacy extends far beyond the narrow borders of Hamilton. A clinical psychologist for several years, Levy became involved in off-Broadway and regional theater production in the 1960s including Red Cross and America Hurrah. In 1969, Levy made his Broadway debut, directing the controversial musical Oh! Calcutta! written by Ken Tynan. Described as "elegant erotica," Oh! Calcutta! ran for 13 years with a brief hiatus, for a total of 7,273 performances. The production earned Levy a Grammy nomination.
In addition to his work with McGuinn and Dylan, Levy's lyrics have also been recorded by Carly Simon, Joe Cocker and Jerry Lee Lewis.
By Kenneth Jones
and Robert Simonson
04 Oct 2004
Jacques Levy, Director of Broadway's Oh! Calcutta! and Doonesbury, Dead at 69
Jacques Levy, the lyricist, director and teacher who staged the naughty long-running revue, Oh! Calcutta! , as well as the musical Doonesbury and Off Broadway's America Hurrah , died Sept. 30 in Manhattan, according to The New York Times.
The cause of death was cancer, his family said. Mr. Levy was 69 and lived in SoHo.
Mr. Levy was a lyricist who contributed to the stage musical, Fame. He also co-wrote several songs on Bob Dylan's classic "Desire" album.
Mr. Levy rose to prominence in the mid-60s as the director of Jean-Claude van Itallie's America Hurrah and was active in The Open Theatre, the experimental Off Broadway playground run by Joseph Chaikin. He also directed Bruce Jay Friedman's Off-Broadway Scuba Duba (mentioned in "The Season," William Goldman's document of the 1967-68 Broadway season).
His most high-profile work was directing the 1969 Broadway revue about sex, Oh! Calcutta! , which was devised by Kenneth Tynan and had contributions from writers as diverse as Sam Shepard, David Newman, John Lennon, Jules Feiffer and Leonard Melfi. He directed the 1976 revival, as well, which stacked up 5,959 performances to become one of the longest-running shows in Broadway history. Mr. Levy also contributed songs to the show.
Accoring to Kathleen Tynan's "The Autobiography of Kenneth Tynan," the critic hired Levy as the director of Calcutta after seeing a London production of America Hurrah . Mr. Levy spent much time considering how best to confront the question of nudity. Finally, during one point in early rehearsals, Mr. Levy told the cast simply, "Take off your robes." "It was back to the Garden all of a sudden, a great high," he recalled, "but not an erotic one. Once they'd broken that barrier it was a lot easier."
Both Mr. Levy and Tynan consider Calcutta a precursor to A Chorus Line .
Mr. Levy also mounted early works by Sam Shepard ( La Turista ) and Terrence McNally ( Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone? ) and worked at the legendary Judson Poets Theater, Playbill On-Line previously reported. His Broadway credits include directing the musical Doonesbury (1983-84 season) and the play Almost and Eagle .
His work in Scuba Duba resulted in a brief war or words with New Republic critic Richard Gilman. Gilman called the play "a new perfect product of the new pseudo-sophistication," and said Levy's "work is constantly threatened by a streak of tastelessness announcing itself as verve." Mr. Levy retaliated by mocking the critic in a subsequent New York Times interview. Gilman then published an essay in which he relagated Mr. Levy to the ranks of a new theatre movement called "The New Barbarism," in which theatre artists simply did their "thing" and rejected all formal criticism.
Mr. Levy won an Obie Award in 1966. According to the Times, he taught directing and playwriting at New York University, Columbia and Yale, as well as Colgate University.
In 2002, Mr. Levy directed Off-Broadway's The Bridge in Scarsdale , a new play by Robert Remington Wood. Bridge told of a painter who has been holed up in a mental institution for a quarter century and her husband, a famous designer of bridges.
The Times reported he graduated from City College in 1956 and later earned a master's degree at the Michigan State University in 1958 and later a PhD there in 1961. After a stint as a clinical psychologist, he moved to working in the theatre.
He is survived by wife Claudia Carr Levy, daughter Maya Jeanne and son Julien.
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