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ISU SummerStage: Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

The cabaret show "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" at the ISU SummerStage in a production directed by Susan Monts-Bologna is an evening of thought and passion filled songs. They sometimes look at life’s fine detail with a microscope and sometimes with a kaleidoscope.

Brel’s songs come from Paris in the confused, critical tumult of ideas and emotions that followed WWII. In these probing pieces there is a lot of anger, much rueful love and more than a little thought provoking commentary.

The ISU SummerStage production featured a quartet of singers: Carolyn Conover, Kathy Anderson-Dittman, Parke Lucas and Mark Bertram. Music director John Blair led guitarist Brent McPike, trumpet player Peter Allison, bassist Erich Schatz and percussionist Travis Morris from his position at the keyboard.

The intimacy of a cabaret performance is daunting to many performers. Many singers and actors prefer the distance of a stage, sets, costumes and a curtain. Mark Bertram seemed the most comfortable of the performers with a number of successes. Probably his most dramatic moment was in a bitter piece, "Next," where he was the center, but supported by the whole cast. Carolyn Conover’s performance of the touching "Old Folks" showed just how Jacques Brel can take a thought and some emotions and turn and turn them before he lets them go. Parke Lucas scored a hit with the rueful portrait of "Jackie." KathyAnderson-Dittman was touching in "Alone" and lent her solid musicianship in a supporting role for "Carousel."

The band for "Jacques Brel…" was nicely balanced. Music director John Blair’s keyboards were always to the fore. The score is a real showcase for guitarists and Brent McPike took ample advantage, easily switching from electric to classical and even doing a nice mimic of a mandolin. Trumpet player Peter Allison had just the right touch for his pieces. Percussionist Travis Morris did a good job with everything from castanets to xylophone and most of the letters in between. Erich Shatz’s bass work was solid.

Saturday night’s performance got off to a shaky start. The whole cast’s performance of "Marathon" was a little garbled, a bit tedious and the men’s voices totally dominated. Next came the angry song "Amsterdam" and it seemed that perhaps bitterness was going to be the evening’s hallmark. But anger, is just one of Jacques Brel’s many emotions. As the evening went on and the singers and players presented more his wide palette there were also laughs, a few tears and some surprisingly thoughtful turns between and in the pieces. Director Susan Monts-Bologna has changed the order of some of the songs and come up with a nice variety of stagings for the pieces. It’s possible to enjoy "Jacques Brel…" on the surface, but there are real depths to be appreciated.

The ISU SummerStage production of "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" plays Wednesday and Thursday, July 1st and 2nd and Tuesday July 8th.

George Walker

After completing an M.A.T. degree in English at Indiana University, George Walker began announcing for WFIU in 1967. Along with regularly hosting classical music shows, he interviews artists and reviews plays and operas.

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