Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris – French Kiss

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Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, Photo Credit: Spotlighters Theatre/Chris Aldridge, CMAldridgePhotography

A REVIEW BY THE BAD ORACLE

Welp, it’s been a helluva week in Baltimore.  We’re at that place now where activists are having to be reminded to sit out for a couple minutes and take some time for themselves.  Revolutions can be exhausting, protesting can turn into a full time job and sometimes you just have to step back before leaping back into the fray.  If that feels like you, might I recommend Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, the ice cream dream currently running over at Spotlighters?  Brel is especially soothing because it doesn’t even try to cram itself into a narrative à la Across the Universe.  It’s more akin to a bunch of music videos strung together, based on songs by the mid-century French bard Jacques Brel.  This structure is something I much, much prefer.  You can kind of let your mind wander and, immediately after the show, download some fairly serious chill out music.  Brel is interesting in that self-conscious mid-sixties troubadour kind of way where the lyrics have more bite than the melody lets on.  They’re lullabies that somehow get away with using words like “fuck” and “whore” (see also: Simon and Garfunkel).   The songs are at once painfully romantic, eerily wistful, touchingly weary.  The show is light but it’s not broad and the music has that sing-songy AbcAbcAbc pattern that makes director Timoth David Copney’s choice to set it at a carnival perfectly sensible (if a little obvious, I mean, one of the songs is actually called “Carousel”).  Aiding this misty fantasyland vibe are costumes by Laura Nicholson, who takes an aggressively spring-influenced palette – there’s so much pastel that when the whole cast is onstage they look like a flock of Jordan almonds.  Set by Alan Zemla backs it up, with touches of carnival feel and a welcome lack of “Frenchy” styling – as Copney told me out in the lobby, he tried to avoid that “baguettes hanging off the wall” thing.  The singing was a bit of a mixed bag, though the cast all worked hard for the money (HAHA, except no, they don’t get paid).  Kerry Brady was pretty but seemed tentative on her first big number “Alone”.  Her voice is much better suited to a honey purr than a big belting ballad and she held up much better on her second try, “Sons Of”, which gave me my first spark of genuine emotional connection in the piece.  Lauren Schein has a strong voice and I just lurve her face.  She has a gorge profile.  Her second act’s “You’re Not Alone” seemed especially trenchant and she infuses it with knowing portentousness.  Beth Weber is a trilly little songbird who hit the high notes in “Timid Frieda” with ease, but got a little lost in the full-cast accompanied “Carousel”.  Michael Tan (also music director for this one) has a beautiful full, deep voice that lends some fucking omph to the ensemble.  He gins up his numbers with mondo energy, espeically “Funeral Tango” (in which he projects while laying on his back, which has to be really difficult).  Darren McGregor has an interesting voice (a slight lisp, perhaps?) but he struggles keeping those long notes in tune and himself in sync with the music.  Connor Moore is cute in the first act’s “Next”.  Superstandout alert, alert:  Mallorie Kristoffersen.  Where the hell did this one come from?  In terms of pure enjoyment, she hits it most squarely on the target.  She’s got a fucking transcendent voice that carried me away, velvet sheathed power vocals that just have that star thing.   Copney waits until fairly late in the game to bust out his ace in the hole, but when he does in the second act’s “Marieke”, it blows you away.  And then she gets you again four songs later in “Old Folks”.  I rarely cry at the theater, less so at musical theater, but damned if this one didn’t squoze a few tears out of this old wet blanket.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris is cute but not cutesy, you know?  In these troubled times, pretty people, pretty music, pretty prettiness seems like exactly the ticket.  The fact that it has just a glitter of a razor’s edge hiding in all that taffeta makes it all the better.  Nicely executed and well timed.  Give your drained brain a break and go.

Running at Spotlighters until May 24th

SECOND OPINION?

‘Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris’ at Spotlighters Theatre

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