Jacques Brel July 2010

Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris

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It’s not a play with a plot. It’s all about the gripping, often raw ballads of the most incredible songwriter and singer ever gracing this planet. A fan of Jacques Brel, me? oh, but of course.

The only drawback of this absolutely brilliant revue is that all of the songs except two have been translated into English (and luckily so, as Brel’s songs always were about the words and not just the melody …) but in translation some of the weightless flow of the rhythm of the songs is lost – which you realize as soon as you hear the two songs still in French. Somehow though this doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the songs, but even enhances it.

The revue has a subtitle “songs of self expression” and that is aptly chosen. Because if you want to see some story arc, there you got it – the development and maturation  of a soul in the span of a lifetime.

Now on to the truly exceptional cast: Jewelle Blackman and Nathalie Nadon and Brent Carver and Mike Nadajewski are four voices matched to perfection, each adding their certain special quality to the songs and the ways of interpretation. “My Childhood” brought tears to my eyes – partly due to the interpretation of Brent Carver who stands out even in this really brilliant cast. I adored “Middle Class” and (sadly) recognized myself in it and therefore had a good laugh at my own expenses thanks to Carver and Mike Nadajewski, whose comic timing and expressive face and body language are just brilliant.

And then there is “Amsterdam”. With Brent Carver interpreting it, it’s a hypnotic chant driving you in with no hope of escape – just as the sailors don’t have an escape out of their hard, often miserable lives. Everyone is driven into the same escalating beat of life that is “Amsterdam”. It’s brilliant. Someone told me they had seen the show four times just because of this song and I have to say I definitely understand that.

In the second half Brussels stands out. And The Bulls, of course, once again with Nadajewski lending an innovative touch to the song that leaves the audience hooting with laughter. Then there is Marieke and I think that was the song where they left the original Flemish in the chorus.

And finally there was Carousel – La Valse a mille temps – interpreted by Blackman. I had only heard it sung by men before, Jacques Brel himself on an old recording and Michael Heltau, now the doyen of our most renowned theatre in Vienna, Burgtheater, whose brilliant revues of Brel’s music introduced me to French Chanson. And yet: Jewelle’s voice added a new level of intimacy to it and she made the song spin through your head like a carousel that’s holding you hostage while it’s turning and turning and turning even faster until you surrender to it’s beat.

Standing Ovations at the end. So very well deserved for an evening of undiluted fun with Brel’s chansons interpreted by truly gifted actors.

Plus: I rarely saw a cast so nice and giving at the stage door. One has to remember that they don’t have to talk with fans or even sign – it’s not in their contract. And yet they all do and are friendly and patient and incredibly open, which is very much appreciated by yours truly!

The show’s mostly sold out, by the way. But go, try to get spare tickets – it’s worth it!!


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