It is surprising how a vocal style dating back before the 1500s, (featured in a 1968 Off-Broadway revue, which celebrated the music of a composer and singer who died nearly four decades ago,) can still strike one as so immediate.
Perhaps that is the case for all great art and artists.
Perhaps it’s just proof that all things change as history flows; all things except man.
At first they were epic tales sung in the courts of France known as chansons de geste dating back to the first millennium. The Song of Roland and The Poem of the Cid are two of the earliest examples but, as the music to both has been lost, they are regarded as literature today.
The modern form of these lyric driven songs, known as “chanson française,” is indelibly identified with Édith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Guy Béart and Jacques Brel,
Jacques Brel (1929-1978) was a prolific singer/songwriter/actor/filmmaker who captivated the French speaking world during his life. His songs have been covered by such diverse talents as David Bowie, Glen Campbell, Cyndi Lauper, Jack Lukeman, Celine Dion and Sting.
Brel’s music is serious and thoughtful, with its focus on the intimate agonies and ecstasies lodged in every heart, capturing the beauty of the bittersweet and the agonies of the absurdities that fate deals to all those players who sit at the table of life.
If Sartre could have carried a tune, this is the music he would have written.
With musical director Anthony Lucca, on a stunningly graceful set by Alex Kolmanovsky, director Dan Fishbach presents some twenty-five songs in a series of rapid coup de theatre; some of which end so abruptly that the audience hasn’t the time to catch its breath, process what it has just witnessed or even think about applauding.
Brel’s lyrics are the essence of poetry – “Her skin will be my wine.”
Fortunately, Fishbach has assembled a quartet cast of poets with Marc Francoeur, Susan Kohler, Miyuki Miyagi and Michael Yapujian, and each has their moment to prove it.
Kohler pulls the rug from under the feet of the naïve romantic with I loved. Francoeur delivers Amsterdam, Brel’s best known tune outside of Europe with a passion that would have pleased its composer to no end, while Miyagi conveys the bleakness of those who know only wandering in their lives with Timid Frieda. Francoeur and Yapujian poke at the brashness of youth in Middle Class with a prickly panache; all with superbly understated choreography supplied by Imani Alexander and Dara Weinberg.
But for all their strengths as individual performers, it’s when they assemble into the show’s ensemble that the numbers flare to a stunning intensity. This is true of the opening number Marathon and it is true with their dazzling rendering of Carousel – “The whole world madly, madly turning, turning until we can’t see.”
Fishbach and his cast and crew have taken Brel’s timeless music and articulated it with a timeliness that is searing.
And a timeliness that shouldn’t be missed.
(Image: Miyuki Miyagi, Marc Francoeur, Susan Kohler and Michael Yapujian — Photo by Enci Box – Courtesy of Odyssey Theatre)
♦ ♦ ♦
Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris
is playing thru August 27 at
2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd.
Los Angeles CA 90025
For Tickets and Information
(310) 477-2055 ext. 2 or www.OdysseyTheatre.com
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