Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

Jacques Brel 3

Production conception, English lyrics and additional material by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman
Music by Jacques Brel
Directed by Stafford Arima
Musical director Laura Burton
Performed by Jewelle Blackman, Brent Carver, Mike Nadajewski, Nathalie Nadon.
Stratford Festival Production
Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford
May 14 to September 25, 2010
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

From Brussels to Amsterdam to Paris in Song

The passion of Jacques Brel’s songs is overwhelming in the revue Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, currently playing at the Stratford Festival’s Tom Patterson Theatre. The four characters – Brent Carver, Mike Nadajewski, Jewelle Blackman and Nathalie Nadon – each offer their own interpretation from a different perspective, but each have amazing passion and emotion to go along with their incredible voices.

Jacques Brel was originally from Belgium, born near Brussels in 1929. Against his family’s wishes, he decided to pursue a career as a singer/songwriter and later an actor. Although some of his lyrics were written in his native Flemish and occasionally in Dutch, most of his songs are in French. His performances and recordings became very popular throughout Europe and eventually North America. He was best known for his poetic lyrics that deliver a message – perhaps he was Europe’s Leonard Cohen or Bob Dylan.

In the sixties, Mort Shuman and Eric Blau translated Brel’s songs and put them together in a song cycle of 27 works, creating the off-Broadway production of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. The revue has been revised and remounted, increasing in popularity over the years. Sadly, Brel, who was a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer in 1978 at age 49.

It is exciting both to listen to and watch Tony award winner Brent Carver perform Brel’s works. His intensity and passion in presenting the songs is brilliant. His presentation of “Amsterdam” at the close of Act I leaves the audience wanting more.

Mike Nadajewski offers the comic relief, along with his powerful voice. He has great fun with his cape and fan in the song “The Bulls”. His humour also shows through in “Next”, about army recruiters. Together, Carver and Nadajewski are hilarious in the duet “Middle Class” (Les Bourgeois).

Jewelle Blackman captivates the audience with Carousel, when she sings faster and faster as the carousel spins. Blackman also joins in on the violin in several numbers. Nathalie Nadon sounds like a French chanteuse, particularly when accompanied by the accordion.

The audience appreciates “Ne me quitte pas”, perhaps Brel’s best-known song. Some of the songs were presented in French, while others are fairly direct translations, and still others are presented in English with just the gist of the original French or Flemish.

The four singers are accompanied by very talented musicians: musical director Laura Burton on piano and celeste, Anna Atkinson on violin and accordion, George Meanwell on cello and guitar and Luc Michaud on bass.

Indeed, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well, and appearing in Stratford, 32 years after his death.

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris continues at the Tom Patterson Theatre, Stratford until September 25. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check www.stratfordshakespearefestival.ca.

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