Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris Review - Through the Looking Glass

Even though Belgian singer/songwriter Jacques Brel was in his heyday in the middle of the twentieth century, his legend has lived on. Considered the master of the modern chanson and the “Magnetic Hurricane,” Brel was known for his thoughtful razor-sharp wit as he explored the strengths and foibles of the culture of his day. Eric Blau and Mort Shuman translated his songs from French to English to create a musical revue which made its debut on January 22, 1968 in Greenwich Village, the “off-Broadway” of New York City. Since that time, JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS has played to enthusiastic audiences on every continent. On top of that, many of the greatest twentieth century artists - including Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, and Bob Dylan – have paid homage to Brel through their interpretations of his music.

Michael Yapujian, Susan Kohler, Miyuki Miyagi, and Marc Francoeur - Photo by Enci Box

These are some pretty big shoes to fill, and the Odyssey Theatre has its job cut out as it revives this musical revue for twenty-first century audiences. Brel’s songs are clever, insightful, and downright funny as he takes on war, love, broken dreams, being young, and growing old. Nothing is sacred – and Brel even pokes fun at death, funerals, and those senior years. There’s a bittersweet quality to his jibes, and sometimes it seems almost embarrassing to chuckle at such politically incorrect observations.

Miyuki Miyagi, Marc Francoeur, Susan Kohler, and Michael Yapujian - Photo by Enci Box

The play revolves around a cast of four, two males (Marc Francoeur and Michael Yapujian) and two females (Susan Kohler and Miyuki Miyagi), who warble non-stop throughout the show. As they flesh out Brel’s perceptions, the audience begins to get a sneak peak at the man who wrote the songs while his personality spills out through his tunes and incisive words. But let’s not forget the movements that the cast uses to project the merriment or sadness or apathy that Brel wanted to convey. Whether stilted or fluid, these nonverbal cues play an important role in this musical revue.

Marc Francoeur and Michael Yapujian - Photo by Enci Box

Add to that the five-piece band which remains onstage throughout the show. Kudos to a talented team of musicians who manage to replicate Brel’s sounds – while controlling their instruments so as not to drown out the brilliant lyrics to each tune. Director Dan Fishbach helms the production with a flexible hand, while music director Anthony Lucca keeps the melodies flowing effortlessly. Scenic designer Alex Kolmanovsky has kept the set simple to retain the focus on Brel’s handiwork, while William Adashek’s lighting lends a competent helping hand.  Imani Alexander and Dara Weinberg have choreographed some astute and adroit movements which fit right in with the music.

Miyuki Miyagi and Susan Kohler - Photo by Enci Box

On opening night, it appeared that the cast was feeling its way – and got more confident and stronger when the second act rolled around. Brel’s music is unique, and its rendering is tied both to Brel’s cultural and to his artistic backgrounds. French may translate into English, but cultural and artistic expressions are more difficult to duplicate. The Odyssey cast and crew have approached the task with heart and enthusiasm.

Marc Francoeur and Susan Kohler - Photo by Enci Box

JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS runs through August 27, 2017, with performances at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90025. Tickets range from $17 to $36. For information and reservations, call 310-477-2055 ext. 2 or go online.   

 

 

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