Charing Cross Theatre
Running until November 22nd.
I, like many others in the audience last night were unfamiliar with the works of Jacques Brel. He was a Belgium songwriter who gained notoriety in the 1960s for his poignant, troubled, satirical songs. Since his death in 1978 many of his songs have found new life by being recorded by many artists, Marc Almond, Scott Walker, Leonard Cohan and David Bowie to name a few.
But this is not a play or musical about the life or death of Jacque Brel, as the title may suggest. It is a theatrical revue showcasing many of his songs.
The first production of Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris was staged in America in January 1968 many years before Brel’s death. He provided all music and French lyrics and English translations were by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman.
This production is currently being staged at the Charing Cross Theatre and is directed by Andrew Keates (Dessa Rose, The Hired Man). The stage was set as a sleezy Parisian nightclub, the musicians onstage and with the lucky people in the front rows seated around relaxed tables, which was perfect for this type of show. Although the Charing Cross theatre feels very ‘long’ and those of us in the rear stalls didn’t get quite so much of the atmosphere.
Jacques Brel’s songs were ably performed by the extremely talented cast of 4, Gina Beck (Phantom of the Opera, Wicked) was stunning! Really; this woman has everything, looks, talent and charisma. She had quite a mixed bag of songs but she pulled every one off fantastically.
The lovely Daniel Boys (Spamalot, Avenue Q), brought versatility to all the songs he sang. Each song demanded something new and whether it was a melancholy ballad or a harmonious quartet he was great.
David Burt has an impressive biography which includes Les Miserables and Crazy for You. He was given the only song I knew well ‘Jackie’, it demonstrated clearly how Brel’s songs can be interpreted in many different ways as I was only familiar with the Marc Almond version. One of Burt’s other songs Funeral Tango was certainly a highlight of the show. Taken from the perspective of a deceased person watching his own funeral, I found it comedic and scarily observant.
The only person out of the quartet that I hadn’t seen perform before was Eve Polycarpou, (In the Heights, Mother Courage), and what a revelation she was! Her voice suited the style of song perfectly. She sang one of Jacques Brel’s , most famous songs ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ in French sat on the front of the stage and although I am ashamed to say, I couldn’t understand a word, I found it mesmerising.
Another person I must mention is the Musical Director Dean Austin, on a couple of occasions he broke into song and I really wanted to hear more. His version of Le Moribond (Seasons in the Sun) was lovely.
On the back wall there was a screen where films were shown throughout some of the songs. I must admit I didn’t find them necessary as the show was captiviating enough. The only time I focused on the film was when the footage was Jacques Brel himself, however that was during the Act 1 finale and I wish I hadn’t watched it, it detracted from what was on stage.
What occurred to me during the course of the evening is the many ways a Jacques Brel song can be interpreted and performed, particularly when you have such a perfect cast. I felt rather embarrassed that I was unfamiliar with most of the songs but having since listened to Marc Almond’s album and several snippets on Youtube, I certainly hope to become more familiar.
I do think some pre-knowledge of Brel’s work would enhance your visit to Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris as you had to concentrate on the complex lyrics and therefore it made some of it hard work for the audience. Saying that though, it is nonetheless, a good evening out to see some fantastic performances.
Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris runs until the 22nd November at the Charing Cross Theatre.
Tickets are priced at £22.50 – £10
Available Online at www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk
or telephone 08444 930 650
Director: Andrew Keates
Musical Director: Dean Austin
Choreographer: Sam Spencer Lane
Designer: Chris de Wilde
Lighting Designer: Mike Robertson
Sound Designer: James Nicholson
Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in London will be performed at the
Charing Cross Theatre, The Arches, Villiers Street, London, WC2N 6NL
Tickets are available priced £10 – £22.50
from the Charing Cross Theatre Box Office, www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk or 08444 930 650.
Thursday 16th October – Saturday 22nd November 2014
Monday to Saturday, 7.45pm
Saturday matinees, 3pm
Running time 2 hours including interval