Marshall Forte at Lyon & Swan: Two Sensational Debuts

by Jim Gladstone

Bay Area Reporter

Tuesday January 17, 2023

Marshall Forte at Lyon & Swan: Two Sensational Debuts

Not since Sylvester...

That's a bold superlative to throw down in San Francisco, which has been the launch pad for an array of singular gay singers — Spencer Day, Shawn Ryan, Jason Brock, and the currently emerging Ryan Patrick Welsh among them.

But it can be applied with confidence to tenor Marshall Forte, a lightning bolt of charisma and musicality who, after a striking musical theater debut as Lola in last year's Ray of Light Theatre production of "Kinky Boots," is now setting off sparks with his own cabaret act, "Hello My Name Is Marshall."

His sassy, confident set, featuring compelling interpretations of songs by Adele, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, and others, is presented twice each Saturday night through February at Lyon & Swan, a new gay-owned and operated North Beach supper club that's a showstopper in and of itself.

Swanky décor at Lyon & Swan
Swanky décor at Lyon & Swan  

A History of Fabulousness
The subterranean nightspot, owned by gay vintner couple Mark Lyon and Daniel Cisneros ("swan" in Spanish), is located in a storied Columbus Avenue property that in past incarnations has housed The Purple Onion, host to an eclectic range of performers (e.g. Phyllis Diller, Maya Angelou, and Zach Galifianakis), a lesbian bar, and a Jelly Roll Morton-owned club that was one of the only San Francisco venues welcoming mixed-race couples in the early 1900s.

The building's upper stories serve as a stylish urban tasting room for the couple's Sonoma winery, Eco Terrena. But the evenings-only basement boite, in just its first two months of operation, has already become one of the city's most eclectic entertainment venues.

Cocktail and entrée at Lyon & Swan
Cocktail and entrée at Lyon & Swan  

In addition to Forte's sizzling debut, Lyon & Swan has presented a rotating slate of performers, including a ragtime pianist, Nigerian fusion artist Bisi O, a gypsy jazz duo, and drag star Varla Jean Merman. There is no cover charge, but patrons of the intimate jewel box venue are required to have dinner (Chef Joe Ball, formerly of La Folie, serves up star-quality French comfort food that's by no means a side dish to the music).

The club's entertainment supervisor, Boris Goldmund, himself a storied queer personality and world-renowned harpist, says he wants Lyon & Swan to "develop and showcase outstanding artists. I hope we can be a real launching pad for performers like Marshall."

Cultivation and Curation
A bit of a showbiz alchemist, Goldmund was introduced to Forte after a friend saw the 29-year-old SF Gay Men's Chorus member perform in "Kinky Boots."

Marshall Forte
Marshall Forte  

"After meeting Marshall," said Goldmund in a recent interview with the Bay Area Reporter, "I invited him to do a few numbers at our opening parties, and after seeing how well he did, I asked him if he'd ever considered doing a full solo show."

"I was like, 'Of course! Absolutely,' " recalled Forte, rolling his eyes and grinning at the memory.

Goldmund, a consummate networker with extensive ties in the local music scene, introduced Forte to his friend, keyboardist and arranger John Steiner, who began his career in the mid-1980s playing and recording with pop group New Edition (Bobby Brown, Johnny Gill, et al). Along with multi-instrumentalist Daniel Berkman, the pair quickly assembled "My Name Is Marshall."

"They are so much more seasoned and experienced than I am," said Forte, grateful for the opportunity to have longtime professionals helping to sharpen his act.

While entirely satisfying in its current form, the show continues to evolve as Forte tinkers with his R&B-leaning repertoire, cheeky audience interaction, and a different guest performer each weekend.

Unable to resist his own pop star fantasies, Forte — who works for United Airlines by day — works not one, but two, costume changes into his hour-long show, including a simultaneously sexy and spoofy iteration of the signature "Kinky Boots" ensemble.

Forte, who has been winning the attention of local theater companies with the gregarious assistance of his close friend and manager, pianist/composer, Joshua Gilstein, hopes to perform in additional theater productions in addition to building a solo career that is promising, to say the least. Beyond Lyon & Swan, you can occasionally catch Forte dropping in by the piano at Martuni's.

There's little doubt you'll have the opportunity to see Forte perform on larger stages in the future, but catch him at Lyon & Swan to earn bragging rights down the line.

Marshall Forte, "Hello, My Name is Marshall." Lyon & Swan, dinner reservations required. Show and dinner, approx. $100. 124 Columbus Ave. (415) 429-5200. www.lyonandswan.com

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