Jacques Brel
is Alive and Well and Living in Paris
Review by Ross Anthony

JB2 If you’re familiar with Jacques and his works, you’ll no doubt enjoy this nostalgic tribute. If, like myself, you aren’t well-versed in Jacques oft-edgy lyrics, here’s a quick summary provided by Director Hallie Baran: “…a Belgian Pop/Folk Singer/Songwriter/Actor of the 1950’s and 60’s... Brel’s songs were written to be performed in bars, coffeehouses and small variety shows in Europe.“ (Ray Charles, David Bowie, John Denver, Neil Diamond, Tom Jones, Cyndi Lauper, Sting, Frank Sinatra are among some who have covered Brel.)

The play itself is simply a collection of (25) Jacques Brel songs each prompted by light family discussion. Don’t expect any gripping storyline or character development from this family, they’re only there as sort of a group emcee to set the tone in the 10-30 second breaks between songs. Additionally, the family makes us all feel welcome in a universal conversation of Brel’s themes which are love, war, death, and survival. And thankfully, about half of these Brel songs are mini-dramas of their own complete with storylines and dramatic arcs. The best songs are the ones that return to the same chorus, but with a new perspective as the crooner grows wiser, or older, or simply colder. While, especially initially, the lyrics feel a bit too antiseptic and 50’s-clean, the more edgier, crass phrases that follow give the whole production a nice bite.

A third of the songs struggle to maintain energy throughout. It could be that their repetitive nature just doesn’t work in this environment or era, or that the interpretation couldn’t flush out a progressing story in the verses. The first song, ironically named “Marathon” exemplifies this point.

A few songs connected with vigor, and moved me. These were “We’re Alone” sang powerfully by Jon Paul, “The Statue” sung well and “acted” even better by Keith (a great example of drama in the song), and “Marieke” brought to life beautifully by Mary Mather. “Marieke” is in French & Flemish/Dutch. Mary sings it with no props, and motionless, save for the twinkling in her eyes and songbird vocals. On paper, it shouldn’t have worked, but Mather seeks and finds a purity in the melody that struck the crowd.

The songs vary in mood, but it seems overall (based on the musical), Brel has an honest distain for false adoration, that he views life as a great alternative to death and advocates healthy & unhealthy doses of intoxication and fornication over loyalty and honesty. He’s a live and let liver, so although, the capping number “If We Only Have Love” is sweet and positive in an “All You Need Is Love” sort of way, I think it’s an awkwardly, falsely-”up” capper for this tribute to an ultimately bitter-sweet songwriter.

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  • Based on the September 18th, 2011 performance by DOMA THEATRE Company at the MET, Los Angeles. Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Copyright © 2011.
  • Music and Lyrics by Jacques Brel. Starring AnnaLisa Erickson, Jon Paul Burkhart, Kristin Towers-Rowles, Josie Yount, Mary Mather, Keith Barletta, Time Miller Angela Todaro, M.A. Gomez, Roxanne Schreiber. Directed by Hallie Baran. Musical Director Kelly Dodson. Original Production Directed by Moni Yakim. Original Production Conception, English Translation and Additonal Material by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman.

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Copyright © 1998-2022 Ross Anthony, Author - Speaker - Solo World Circumnavigator In addition to reviewing films and interviewing celebs at HollywoodReportCard.com, traveling the world, composing great music, motivational speaking, Mr. Anthony also runs his own publishing company in the Los Angeles area. While traversing the circumference of the planet writing books and shooting documentaries, Mr. Anthony has taught, presented for, worked &/or played with locals in over 30 countries & 100 cities (Nairobi to Nagasaki). He's bungee-jumped from a bridge near Victoria Falls, wrestled with lions in Zimbabwe, crashed a Vespa off a high mountain road in Taiwan, and ridden a dirt bike across the States (Washington State to Washington DC). To get signed books ("Rodney Appleseed" to "Jinshirou") or schedule Ross to speak check out: www.RossAnthony.com or call 1-800-767-7186. Go into the world and inspire the people you meet with your love, kindness, and whatever it is you're really good at. Check out books by Ross Anthony. Rand() functions, Pho chicken soup, rollerblading, and frozen yogurt (w/ blueberries) also rock! (Btw, rand is short for random. It can also stand for "Really Awkward Nutty Dinosaurs" -- which is quite rand, isn't it?) Being alive is the miracle. Special thanks to Ken Kocanda, HAL, Jodie Keszek, Don Haderlein, Mom and Pops, my family, R. Foss, and many others by Ross Anthony. Galati-FE also deserves a shout out. And thanks to all of you for your interest and optimism. Enjoy great films, read stirring novels, grow.

Last Modified: Monday, 26-Sep-2011 19:32:16 PDT