Great songs sung well but could also be more “Alive”

#17 – Jacque Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

Jacques Brel is a renowned composer of lyric driven songs with intricate and sly melodies. His writing is robust with wit and wisdom. Watching him sing you can see he has a flair for passion and the dramatic with a touch of a smile. He loves performing songs he has written about things that he feels are important and/or absurd. 
Jacque Brel is Alive and Well and Living In Paris was an American revue of his songs translated by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman in 1968. There are a few bon mots dotted throughout but it is mostly the songs.

The show leaps off with Marathon a jaunty tune that seems to celebrate progress only to reveal a cynicism about where we are all heading. You get the humour and dark of the composer right off the bat.
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Other songs like the mocking and defiant Timid Frieda, the raging bar song The Middle Class, and the hilarious love struck Madeleine have an angry joy infused throughout. More serious songs like Desperate Ones and Old Folks have witty sorrow. 
You don’t have to be a great singer to sing Brel’s theatrical story telling tunes it is more about embodying and sharing them with the audience. They need to be felt deeply and shared freely with candor.

Erin Plam is one of four singers in the show and she gets this the most. A huge vocal range she often bites into the songs and tosses them with gusto towards the audience. She is having fun in all the drama and is dramatic in the fun. Mike Kovac also has some lovely moments and although his voice seems better suited to blues or rock he can command the stage.
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Another electric performer was the accomplished pianist Kerry O’Donovan. He was connecting with the singers and playing with vigor and even though his back was to us, you could feel he was playing for us. Not in an upstaging way but whenever you looked over you could see him deep in it, sharing.

That is (perhaps now obviously) the drawback I think with a lot of the show. Directors Brianna Wiens and Maddison Popov allow a sense of reverence to the material that often keeps the overall show at arms length and on display.  The staging has a solemnity and the interpretation of many of the songs lack complexity.

When actors are trying too hard they can ‘hinge’. They start to lean over their waist or stick their neck out. They are not in their body and living in the moment of the story of the song.

Seeing someone struggle against a negative emotion is compelling and makes the audience feel it. Indulging in it means the audience doesn’t, they can only sympathize.

Both these things contribute to a pushed feeling and a sense of importance that binds the material rather then letting it take flight. 

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This young company clearly loves this material and it is a great chance to hear Brel sung live. Especially when they get to the last two songs – Carousel and If We Only Have Love – the cast opens up and plays and the evening ends on a heartfelt and joyous note. Jacques Brel was alive and well!


A Point B Theatre production at Presentation House
Running Until March 2nd.



Jacque Brel singing Marieke

And singing Mathilde

And The Port of Amsterdam

You can see the joyous passion and his dramatic flair with a touch of smile.


Diversity Casting Tally Sheet 2013
Art holds a mirror up to our world, and in our Canadian society – in most urban centre the “visible minority” is at about 52% while most theatre (also found in most urban centers) is still all Caucasian. So here is a running total that will be updated with each show I see this year.

# of Plays            Total Actors                         # Diverse            Plays with Diverse Casting
23                         148                                             28                        9

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