Feature: Gerrilyn Sohn - Lady Sings With Hues

Gerrilyn Sohn starts her Sophomore cabaret year July 31st with IF JOE ALLEN'S WALLS COULD SING.

By: Jul. 30, 2022

Feature: Gerrilyn Sohn - Lady Sings With Hues

Fifteen years. That's how long Gerrilyn Sohn went without singing. This woman who, as a little girl, became obsessed with the movie Porgy And Bess on the family TV, sending her into a lifelong passion for music and raising her voice in song, was happily working in the corporate world, and not singing. It had been a good fifteen years, a stable fifteen years, it had been the fifteen years for which she had asked and planned. But that voice inside was ready to be raised, it was ready to be heard, and it was ready to be active once more.

There would be no more silence for the voice of Gerrilyn Sohn.

Feature: Gerrilyn Sohn - Lady Sings With Hues Growing up in Newington, Connecticut, the daughter of a picture framing artist and a secretary, Gerrilyn Sohn was one of the many shy kids walking the halls of the schools. At the age of seven, though, she found music because of that televised Porgy and Bess, throwing herself into her parents' cast albums and eventually playing the Gershwin opera on the Hi-Fi until the vinyl disc was warped and had to be replaced. That passion for those cast albums gave shy Gerrilyn Sohn the power to sing, even if it was just for herself, in her room, as she awaited the day when her shyness would subside a little, allowing her to begin acting in school plays, which it did, and by High School Gerrilyn was singing from the stage. Still painfully shy, Gerrilyn was happy to be playing the "second tree from the left" in those school productions, but her love of music kept growing as, slowly, the shyness began to diminish, and by college, Gerrilyn was acting up a storm... not in school because Mama and Daddy Sohn were determined to have a daughter who was not an actress, and Gerrilyn was learning the life of a paralegal.

For one year.

Having been raised by a single working mother after the death of her father, Gerrilyn Sohn's mother worried that her own daughter would be faced with similar financial struggles, and the decision was made that the singing Sohn would attend an all-girls school that would turn her into a paralegal. Sohn remembers that, one day, "The principal told everyone the grade point average was down and said 'What do you think you're going to do? Is your husband going to support you?'" but those words did nothing to quell that voice inside, and, one year in, the decreasingly-shy young woman approached Mom and Dad with the news that it wasn't working for her, and that her happiness demanded a change.

"If you're going to drop out of school, you have to get an education. You have to transfer to a school near us," came the demand to which Gerrilyn acquiesced, on one condition: "Only if I can major in theater - straight acting, not musicals." And, with that, began the life of a college drama student who, year by year, was becoming less shy and more show business savvy, particularly when it came to performing. Not, of course, as a straight actress because, while studying "the legitimate" theater during the day, Gerrilyn was moonlighting, doing musicals at night in a local community theater.

"I just like singing. I love singing. It's this release and, for me, I like songs that tell a story because I empathize with the character and put myself in that position. The deeper the lyric, the more I like to sing it."

Feature: Gerrilyn Sohn - Lady Sings With Hues And sing, she did, because shortly after finishing college Gerrilyn Sohn booked an eight-month tour of Europe with the musical HAIR, performing the original Broadway staging (including the nudity - so much for that pesky shyness!) in countries like Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Although all Germanic-speaking countries, the Hair company was performing the play in English, traveling by bus to a new city every day, rarely spending more than one day in one place, although a week-long sitdown in Vienna was heavenly, and the public attitude of the people in one country was a bit surprising.

"It was interesting, for some reason we were a huge deal in Croatia - for some reason in Croatia, we were like rock stars. It was crazy but it was fun."

As the company's tour of duty with the Hair contract came to a close, Gerrilyn soon found herself back in Newington and facing the big question of what to do with her life, next, and there was a place inside of herself where she knew that there was a big move coming. New York was the most natural, indeed, the only next step... and Mom and Dad were not having it. Gerrilyn's doting parents had been proudly supportive, all through college, when she was studying acting, always coming to every single show, cheering her on from the sidelines, and even biting their lips through the long, nervous eight months that she traveled overseas. But the thought of their beloved daughter braving New York City while pursuing one of the most difficult career tracks in the world had Gerrilyn's parents openly objecting.

"If you move to New York, you'll never survive, it's going to eat you alive, you're not going to last."

Feature: Gerrilyn Sohn - Lady Sings With Hues Although there always was a healthy respect between the three Sohns, Gerrilyn knew what she wanted - it was what she had wanted since her teenage years, without really even knowing it. Gerrilyn remembers watching certain movies shot in New York City and eyeballing the Manhattan scenery and feeling something special about what she saw there. During those informative High School years, there had been day trips on the bus into the city - a different city than the one we know today - and the violent jolt of the Metropolis spoke to the young girl, in person and in those movies she watched, movies like the Pennebaker Company documentary and the Attenborough A Chorus Line. Gerrilyn Sohn just knew that New York and the theater were her destiny, and, despite parental protestations, off she flew toward her dream.

The dream didn't last. At least, the dream of acting didn't last. Gerrilyn back-burnered the acting track after several months of auditions and insecurity, and one eye-opening experience. A friend who had recently finished playing the oft-coveted role of Fosca in Sondheim's musical PASSION turned up at a temp job with Gerrilyn, and when Sohn asked, "What are you doing here?" the actress simply replied, "Well, I have to work." In that moment, Gerrilyn realized that, if playing one of the greatest roles in musical theater in a city as important as D.C. wasn't insurance that other jobs would come, then there was no trusting show business to provide her with the security that she required in her life. And, with that, Gerrilyn Sohn walked away from the business of acting, from her dream of performing, and from the need to sing.

Fifteen years passed.

And that is where Gerrilyn's story begins.

Feature: Gerrilyn Sohn - Lady Sings With Hues Gerrilyn Sohn lived peacefully, contentedly, for those fifteen years. She had a job that she enjoyed. She had a home where she was happy. She made her friendships and she made her way in the ever-changing landscape of New York City, a one-time center of dirt and debauchery that became a cultural center filled with galleries, spas, and a Starbucks on every corner ("I kind of miss it a little" Sohn says about the old New York). Gerrilyn hadn't looked back at the past and didn't miss the acting, though, over time, came a dawning realization that something was missing. "I missed singing," says Sohn, simply. A wild whim crept into her heart and Gerrilyn googled CABARET CLASSES, which led her to industry staple Gretchen Reinhagen, a renowned performer, director, and teacher. Before barely a minute had passed, Sohn had been studying with Reinhagen for seven years, and during those seven years, repeated friends and fellow students asked the burning question: when are you going to do a solo show? It didn't quite resonate with Sohn for the first few years, but after enough time has passed and enough people have asked, there really is no other choice but to begin planning that first-ever solo show. Besides, Sohn says, teacher Reinhagen was considering leaving the business of directing cabaret, and if she was going to do this, she was going to do it with Gretchen. And so, in spite of being nervous that she wasn't good enough to carry an entire hour all on her own, Gerrilyn and Gretchen sat down and began planning out SOMETHING COOL.

Well, Something Cool was a hit. Three performances in Don't Tell Mama's Brick Room turned into five performances, reviewers and fellow cabaret artists were praising her performance, and people from all the areas of Gerrilyn's life were flocking to the club to see her tell her musical stories.

Feature: Gerrilyn Sohn - Lady Sings With Hues "That first performance was like being shot out of a cannon. It was a full house. I had people come from every area of my life. People came in from High School, three hours away. A couple of people that were at that all-girls school. I had started doing open mics, so I had people from the cabaret community. It was amazing, the support that I felt, that first night in the Brick Room."

Mama and Daddy Sohn? Yes, they were there, alright, more proud than ever: there was no way they were going to miss Gerrilyn's return to the stage, in this new, personal format of storytelling.

"It's intimate. And, with each show, I feel that I am interacting with the audience more. It is nice to interact with them. I am still shy, but that changes; with each show, there's been a huge difference. I definitely feel much more comfortable. I don't have that schmoozy 'I'm Here!' personality, and I wish I had more of that, and I need to have more of that (I think), but I want to be real because to me that's important. If we're not real in real life, we can't be real on stage, and I am an open book."

Working with Reinhagen to create that debut solo show was a six-month adventure for Sohn that saw Gerrilyn crafting the musical cabaret out of a combination of songs that fit into stories she wanted to tell, and stories stemming from songs that she wanted to sing, and her open and honest air drew audiences and friends to her, as the cabaret community welcomed her to their family. Hardly a single performance of Something Cool went by without some fellow artist (or artists) coming to catch the new girl in town as, one by one, members of the industry came to adore the young woman in the sparkling pink cocktail frock. Gerrilyn had found a tribe and, as a supportive member of that tribe, Gerrilyn invested in her new friends by attending every show she could get to, by consuming as much cabaret as possible, and by familiarizing herself with as many performers as there were to see.

"I do go see a lot of shows. I like to support people. I am so happy when i'm sitting at a show.

It's important -- I like to know who that person is when I leave that room. I hope that I've learned something about that person."

Feature: Gerrilyn Sohn - Lady Sings With Hues Along the way, Gerrilyn is learning the valuable lessons that come with time and experience, about navigating the business of show and the scrutiny that comes with it.

"I have met some great friends from the community now that I would never have met otherwise - all different ages, all different professions, retired, and for the most part, I find everybody to be supportive. I know that not everybody's going to like me and that's ok. I don't need to bother. But there are plenty of people who do."

"I had no idea how well known the song "Something Cool" was in the cabaret community. People would say, "I do that song" - "I do that song" - "I do that song" but I didn't let it bother me because I felt like this is my version, this is how I do it, I don't really care how anybody else does it."

Now, after that 2019 Freshman year, Gerrilyn Sohn prepares for her Sophomore season, a little late, thanks to the pandemic, but the cabaret storyteller is finally ready to reclaim the momentum that was started in the months before the lockdown. Still the darling of the cabaret community and still at everyone else's show, Gerrilyn will open IF Joe Allen'S WALLS COULD SING & OTHER HIDDEN GEMS at (naturally enough) Don't Tell Mama, where Something Cool premiered some three years ago. And although there are no flashy characters to hide behind, like those in the musical plays that Gerrilyn once favored, the depth of emotion and lyrical connection that Gerrilyn brings to every single song she performs is a strong indication that cabaret might have been where Sohn was destined to land, from the very beginning. This may be where all those years of singing in her room, singing with a record, singing as the Second Tree From The Left, and singing in foreign countries was meant to bring the not-so-fledging-anymore chanteuse. The community and the industry have certainly taken a shine to the singing actress returning to the stage after so many years and, clearly, Gerrilyn Sohn has come home. Let us hope she stays a while.

Gerrilyn Sohn IF Joe Allen'S WALLS COULD SING & OTHER HIDDEN GEMS opens at Don't Tell Mama on July 31st at 3 pm and plays again on August 4th at 7 pm. For information and reservations visit the Don't Tell Mama website HERE and HERE.

Visit the Gerrilyn Sohn website HERE.

Photos by Stephen Mosher

Visit the Stephen Mosher website HERE.