Friday, October 19, 2007

Jacques Brel Lives On

After seeing the Alliance Theatre's entertaining, if not brilliant, perfomance of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well in Paris, last night, we found this truly cabaret-worthy tribute to Brel by David Bowie:

Our favorite song, after Ne me Quitte Pas , is Amsterdam: Both sung below by Nina Simone and Jacques Brel, himself:

Come to the Cabaret...

Here's the AJC Review of the show:

‘Jacques Brel’ @ The Alliance

THEATER REVIEW. “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” Grade: A. 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays. 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturdays. 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sundays. Through Oct. 28. $30-$35. Alliance Theatre, Hertz Stage, Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Midtown. 404-733-5000, Bottom line: Susan V. Booth, who recently picked up the Alliance’s Tony Award for excellence in regional theater, proves she’s at the top of her game.

In the world of Jacques Brel, love is a pas de deux — a dance of desire and loss acted out in a plush red and gold Parisian cabaret.

And what is death?

Death is a tango of back-snapping intensity, between a dark stranger and his submissive victim, acted out in a plush red and gold Parisian cabaret.

Both images work their dizzy magic in “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” — the whirling carousel of a revue that’s getting an intensely imagined workout on the Alliance Theatre’s Hertz Stage.

As directed by Susan V. Booth, “Jacques Brel” captures the breathy metaphysical allure that was the essential trademark of the Belgian-born troubador (1929-1978) who made his name in the City of Light.

A mid-’60s off-Broadway hit that has come bobbing back into fashion with the frenetic, century-surveying pace of its opening number (“Marathon”), this musical is as refreshing and soul-satisfying as a spritzy late-afternoon aperitif in a musty Left Bank boite.

Playing on that conceit, designers Leslie Taylor (sets) and Pete Shinn (lights) have turned the subterranean Hertz space into a delightfully warm cabaret, replete with miniature chandeliers, Chinese lanterns, banquettes, a working bar, a piano strewn with swags and tassels and one tiny guitar.

Keep your eye on that strategically placed ukelele, and don’t be surprised if you hear a few bonsoirs from the ushers.

Eric Blau and Mort Shuman, who conceived the entertainment and translated the lyrics from the French, have kept the piece blissfully bookless, so that the songs tell their own stories without colliding with any forced characters or plot. This lets the director play with the order of the numbers, even edit out or add a few, to emphasize certain themes or showcase the strengths of the cast.

In every choice, Booth and musical director Michael Fauss demonstrate impeccable taste, and the quartet of singers is fantastically adept at interpreting Brel’s inimitable oeuvre.

Songs about frolic and courtship (“Bachelor’s Dance,” “Timid Freida”). Songs of abandonment (“Ne Me Quitte Pas”) and romantic longevity (“Songs for Old Lovers”). Songs about lusty sailors and whores (“Amsterdam”) and the silent-film bustle of Brel’s native burg (“Brussels”).

Lovely Lauren Kling gets to play most of the ingenue parts. Joseph Dellger is alternately sinister and salty in a variety of male roles; his lip-smacking turn in “Amsterdam” is a literal study in the delicousness of grandstanding. Craig A. Meyer uses his bright-eyed boyishness to convey both tenderness and strength — you sort of imagine that he’s the Mr. Congeniality of this ensemble.

A ribald comedian, Courtenay Collins also goes to dark, dangerous and exhilarating places. With the tragic “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” the tears are real, and the performance one of the best of the year.

Arriving at a time when America had been shattered by Vietnam, “Jacques Brel” dabbles in political commentary and has been updated here to make salient points about America’s place in the world.

But Brel’s great romantic spirit, his quirky convulsion of ideas and philosophy, are the core of this superbly choreographed revue. He was tough; he was sentimental. He was sensual; he was cerebral. He was an elegant, protean thinker and a low humorist. At once joyous and funeral, Brel’s songs are meditations on the fickle impulse of the modern age.

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