Theatre review: Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris

Posted: January 29, 2010 in Theatre & Event Reviews and Interviews
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Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris.
Direction:  Colin Law and Dean Roberts
Musical Direction:  DuPreez Strauss
Lighting:  Jane Gosnell
Musical Staging:  Trish Mckenna
Cast:  Chrissy Caine, Graham Clarke, David Chevers, Daneel Uys
Bass: Charles Kuhn; Guitars: Wayne Bosch; Percussion: Heinrich Kruse
Review:  Astrid Stark 

First published in the Cape Times, January 2010

Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris is one of South Africa’s longest running musical shows.  Belgian born composer, Jacques Brel, penned most of the lyrics in this production and Mort Shuman translated them from French to English.  The late Taubie Kushlick introduced the material to South African audiences at the Chelsea Theatre in Hillbrow, in a show that ran for over two decades, in various forms.

With Brel’s acidic wit, and brutally honest compositions, he captures imaginations and hearts, and has built himself an enormous fan base.  When you listen to Jacques Brel you just know that that you are listening to a man who has been chewed up and spat out by love- more than once.  By strong contrast he is also a man who embraced life and tasted the sweetest fruits it could offer him. Brel poured his entire soul into his performances.  His is a very tough, if not impossible, act to follow.  So it was with great expectations that I stepped into the NewSpace theatre.  And as with most great expectations; there is often a sense of disappointment following not too far behind. 

Directors Colin Law and Dean Roberts selected British born Chrissy Caine’s rendition of Le Diable as its opening piece, and whilst it is not entirely bad rendition, Caine’s voice sounds forced and her performance is a bit abrasive.  In fact it felt that several of the numbers performed by the four singers were treated as big scale musical numbers, which Jacques Brel is not. His performances were often understated and in cabaret style.  Brel would sometimes whisper, often roar, and sometimes treat a song like a poem; but he would never belt a song out in one range of voice.  The most handsome David Chevers is most guilty of this and it does not always do his voice and the songs justice.  His stage presence is very strong and he is pleasing to the eye. Perhaps with a bit more guidance he can make an interesting contrast to the rest of the cast as a younger, playboy Brel.

Daneel Uys achieves Brel’s style beautifully in her version of the popular tear jerker, Ne Me quitte Pas; and the tears were flowing. She also did an interesting version of the Timid Frieda and she seems to really understand and play with the irony and wit in her songs.

Jane Gosnell’s lighting is mind-blowing during Graham Clarke’s rendition of the Statue, which turns him into a chilling sculpture, which he cleverly enacts with his very expressive face.  Clarke’s solo performance, especially Fanette, feels delightfully dangerous and suitably tortured and in tune with Brel’s intentions.  

Caine comes into her own during her rendition of the beautiful Marieke and The Desperate Ones.  When she sings the lyrics to The Old Folks, “The old folks never die/ They just put down their heads and go to sleep one day/ They hold each other’s hand like children in the dark/ But one will get lost anyway/ And the other will remain just sitting in that room/ Which makes no sound,” I can bet that there was not a dry eye in the house; or at the very least a few large lumps in throats.  The cast as whole shined in their performances of Madeleine and Brussels.  The band, although it is a great to have a live band, were a little distracting at times, and sometimes a little too loud, drowning out the voices. 


Whilst there may be many imperfections in this particular production, I still walked out of the theatre feeling moved and very entertained.  If you are not going to be too picky about perfect Brel impersonations; you will certainly enjoy this evening out.

“In a man’s life there are two important dates:  his birth and his death.  Everything we do in-between is not very important”- Jacques Brel

Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris is on at the NewSpace until 13 February.  Booking is at Computicket and tickets range from R145 each. The show runs nightly at 8pm except Sundays.  Mondays are ‘buy one get one free’ nights. For special group and fundraiser offers Call 021- 422-5522 or 082-5697-660.
The End.


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