“Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” is a stage piece of Brel’s songs with their often bitterly insightful scenes and minidramas.
The IU Theatre production directed by George Pinney began quite promisingly with Belinda Quimby and Zachary Frank doing a sort of Parisian “Apache” dance of aggressive courtship. Sachin Bhatt, Vanessa Benchley, Tom Hershner and Hannah Willman joined them for the theme setting “Marathon.” The show continued with solos, quartets, trios and some numbers that were dramatized with dance by Quimby and Frank.
Jacques Brel’s songs range in topic from stories of a mechanical sexual initiation, through accounts of love, aging and death. Characters, situations, cities even social classes are all subjects for the songs. They are more often than not tinged with sadness and regret.
IU’s flexible Wells-Metz Theatre is arranged as a cabaret for “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.” Gordon Strain’s design includes a narrow runway style stage, thrust nearly the length of the hall. The four piece orchestra led by music director Jeff Tanski is at the back of the stage. The effect is enhanced with a few little tables around the edges of the stage along with the usual seating. Yuri Cataldo’s costumes seem to evoke the raggedy sort of demi-hippy chic of the early seventies.
Reports are that Jacques Brel was an intensely magnetic figure on stage and that he presented riveting portraits in his concerts. The IU cast was clearly talented. They sang and moved well and were so darned appealing that I was tempted to take them all home with me, but Brel’s songs are the music of experience, of age, of internal and external wrinkles. There were good performances and bright spots of wit throughout the production, but the number that the students were most comfortable with was the anthem “If We Only Have Love.” They sang it as if, despite the grim evidence of everything else they had sung, it was an answer and a fitting conclusion. I found it a strangely upsetting end.
The IU Theatre’s cabaret style production of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” directed by George Pinney plays each evening this week at eight and on Saturday at two and eight.