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‘Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well’ in Blau and Shuman’s musical review Shari Barrett | Fri, Jul 14 2017 12:05 AM

A prolific singer-songwriter, actor and director, Jacques Brel composed and performed literate, thoughtful and theatrical songs that generated a large, devoted following, initially in Belgium and France, and later throughout the world. , a musical revue conceived by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman which was a hit when it opened off-Broadway in 1968, features English lyrics and additional material by the pair who pay tribute to the Belgian singer-songwriter known as the “Bob Dylan of France” thanks to his ability to reflect the current mood of society through his music and lyrics.

The production at the Odyssey Theatre in West L.A. is directed by Dan Fishbach and musical director Anthony Lucca, who performs with an amazing 4-piece orchestra whose melodic stylings add a touch of magic to the show which features Marc Francoeur, Susan Kohler, Miyuki Miyagi and Michael Yapujian in the cast, with energetic choreography by Imani Alexander and Dara Weinberg whose movements assist in bringing focus to both the joy and sorrow of Brel’s songs that brim with flair, attitude and European sophistication. Just as Kurt Weill’s music added social relevance to the plays of Bertolt Brecht, Brel’s songs retain their edgy vibe over half a century after they were written.
“These songs speak to the entire human experience and they all function on multiple levels,” says director Fishbach. “This production is much more than a revue – it is ultimately a one-man musical with a cast of four. The music is Brel’s, the lyrics are Brel’s and the razor-sharp wit is Brel’s, providing a character study of Brel himself, and also a picture of Western civilization in the latter half of the 20th century.” 
Originally written to be performed in cafes, Brel’s ballads, tangos, boleros, rock and classic songs tell stories about people actively questioning their own values. Each number takes on a potent theme: love, war, adventure, broken dreams, social class, being young and growing old. Audiences will recognize songs that have been performed by some of the 20th century’s greatest artists, including Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Judy Collins, David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and more.

While solid harmonies abound and all 4 actors are committed to working as an ensemble to bring many of Brel’s musical characters to life, there were moments when some off-key singing by one cast member distracted from the magnificence of his lyrics. That aside, standout performers Marc Francoeur and Miyuki Miyagi command attention every time they are featured as a soloist, with Susan Kohler adding in the needed self-reflection and sadness in tunes such as “Old Folks” (with Miyagi), “My Death,” “Marieka” and the enigmatic “Carousel” whose lyrics seem to reflect the maddening up and down society in which we currently live. Michael Yapujian commands the stage during “Statue” and “Alone.”  But it is Francoeur’s renditions of a poor sailor’s life on the streets of “Amsterdam” and the lonely life of lovers in “Next” that will stick with me, along with Brel’s comical observations about “The Middle Class.”

 

While Brel is no longer either alive or living in Paris, his legendary vision of romance, humor and moral conviction endures through his insightful music and lyrics. Just imagine you are listening while sitting at a sidewalk café, sipping a glass of delicious French wine, to make the experience complete.
Performances of “Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris” take place on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. through Aug. 27 (dark July 23 and Aug. 11). Additional weeknight performances are scheduled on Thursday, July 13; Wednesday, July 19; and Thursday, July 27; all at 8 p.m. Tickets are $27 on Wednesdays and Thursdays; $32 on Fridays; and $36 on Saturdays and Sundays. The third Friday of every month is wine night at the Odyssey, and theatre goers can mingle with the cast after the show. The Odyssey Theatre is located at 2055 S. Sepulveda Blvd., West Los Angeles. Call 310-477-2055 or go to
OdysseyTheatre.com.
  

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