Jacques Levy

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Jacques Levy : biography

July 29, 1935 – September 30, 2004

Jacques Levy (29 July 1935 – 30 September 2004) was an American songwriter, theatre director, and clinical psychologist.

Levy was born in New York City in 1935, and attended its City College. He received a doctorate in psychology from Michigan State University. Levy was a trained psychoanalyst, certified by the Menninger Institute for Psychoanalysis in Topeka, Kansas. He later returned to New York and became a clinical psychologist.

In 1965, Levy directed Sam Shepard’s play Red Cross. The following year he directed two of the short plays in Jean-Claude van Itallie’s America Hurrah. In 1969, Levy directed the off-Broadway erotic revue Oh! Calcutta!, after which, Levy approached Roger McGuinn of The Byrds to collaborate on a project inspired by Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. The musical stalled, but one song, "Chestnut Mare," co-written by McGuinn and Levy, became the single released from the album (Untitled) in 1970. Many further Levy-McGuinn songs appeared on Byrds and McGuinn albums during the 1970s. In 1973, Levy and Van Itallie reunited for Mystery Play, which starred Judd Hirsch and had a brief run off-Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre.

In the mid-seventies, Levy met Bob Dylan through McGuinn. Shortly after, the two collaborated on "Isis" and another six songs which appeared on Dylan’s 1976 album Desire. These included "Hurricane" about imprisoned boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter, and "Joey" about the mafia gangster and hit man, Joe Gallo. In 1975, Levy effectively directed Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue. Levy’s lyrics also entered the repertoires of Joe Cocker, Crystal Gayle, and Carly Simon.

Levy also had several achievements in drama. In 1980 he staged Stephen Poliakoff’s play American Days at Manhattan Theatre Club, which featured David Blue, one of the performers in the Rolling Thunder Revue, and then 1983 he staged Doonesbury: A Musical Comedy, based on the comic strip Doonesbury on Broadway. In 1988 he provided the lyrics for the stage musical of the film Fame. Later came Marat/Sade (1994), Bus Stop (1997), and Brecht on Brecht (2000).

From 1993 until his death from cancer in 2004, he was an English professor and director of theater at Colgate University in upstate New York. He had two children, Maya and Julien, with his wife Claudia.

Theatrical credits

  • Oh! Calcutta! (1969) – revue – director
  • Oh! Calcutta! (1976 revival) – revue – director and contributing songwriter
  • Almost an Eagle (1982) – play – director
  • Doonesbury: A Musical Comedy (1983) – musical – director

Note: Fame, the stage musical, was not presented on Broadway, but has been playing in London’s West End since 1995.

Off Broadway
  • America Hurrah (1966) – play – director – Pocket Theatre – American premiere
  • Mystery Play (1973) – play – director – Cherry Lane Theatre – American premiere
  • American Days (1981) – play – director – Manhattan Theatre Club – American premiere
  • TRYP (2005) – play – dramaturge