Walking into the theatre to see “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” last night, I thought I had no idea who Jacques Brel was. However, thanks to the transformation of the Charing Cross Theatre into a smoky nightclub, together with the performances from Gina Beck, Daniel Boys, David Burt and Eve Polycarpou, I realised how much I actually knew of the music of this highly regarded Belgian singer-songwriter. For those of you who are not too sure who he is, Jacques is widely considered a master of the modern ‘chanson’. He is also credited with being a major influence on songwriters and performers such as David Bowie, Alex Harvey, Leonard Cohen, Marc Almond among others. But all of that is secondary really as this production is all about his music.
However, this show isn’t a jukebox musical with a threadbare plot taking the audience from one song to another in its conception or its staging. Instead, it is a magical musical journey through some 28 of Brel’s songs. Whatever your taste in music, there is something here you will love as there are so many musical styles on display. There are numbers, such as ‘Statue’ that really make you think – how many times have we seen memorials to brave heroes of the war, and just accepted at face value the eulogy on the plaque? Then there are songs such as ‘Funeral Tango’ which had the audience raising the roof with laughter. There is real emotion in many songs including ‘Old Folks’ and ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ which is sung entirely in French by Eve with so much emotion, that once more this reviewer had the proverbial lump well and truly in his throat.
Musical Director Dean Austin (who has a good singing voice of his own) and the highly talented 5 piece band, who are scattered throughout the stage in the authentic nightclub set, really know how to bring the audience into the beauty of the music and, coupled with the fabulous voices of the cast, every song takes on a life of its own. The atmosphere is helped by the layout of the theatre. The first two rows of seats have been removed and replaced by nightclub tables. Anyone lucky enough to get seats in these will not only have a wonderful view of the show, but may find themselves a part of the action, especially if the scene-stealing bowler hat in the song ‘Brussels’, carries on throughout the run.
Ultimately, the music is the real star of this show but full credit has to be given to the four cast members for delivering the songs so brilliantly. The ‘youngsters’, Gina and Daniel, bring the exuberance of youth and a touch of wide-eyed mysticism to their performances, while the more mature David and Eve display a hard fought knowledge of life in everything they sing. In songs where all four perform together, such as ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘If We Only Have Love’, there is an obvious affection between them all that translates so well into the performance.
All in all, this is a real gem of a show. The Charing Cross Theatre, with its fairly intimate layout, is the perfect location.The combination of atmospheric staging, appropriate costumes (although I should point out a British Sergeant would never wear an officer’s jacket), superb direction by Andrew Keates, fantastic songs and a really amazing cast of talented performers make this a ‘must-see’ production for any music lover. I don’t know about Paris, but Jacques Brel is currently truly alive and well, under the arches in London’s West End.
Review by Terry Eastham
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris
Gina Beck (Wicked, Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables) , Daniel Boys (Avenue Q, Spamalot, Love Story, also well-known from BBC’s Any Dream Will Do, 2007 ) , David Burt (Kiss Me Kate, The Merchant of Venice, The Beggars People, Plague Over England) and Eve Polycarpou (In The Heights, Mother Courage, Jacques Brel – National Theatre, 1970s ) star in a new production of the hit revue Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris at the Charing Cross Theatre for a strictly limited season
Often haunting, sometimes funny, heart- wrenching and vividly poetic, the songs of Jacques Brel explore the human condition through honest storytelling, with themes of joy and sorrow, love and loss, war and peace and life and death.
Directed by Andrew Keates, whose acclaimed production of Dessa Rose has just finished a sellout run at Trafalgar Studios, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris is a musical revue of the greatest works by one of the most prolific, Belgian, singer-songwriters of all time, with what are regarded as the definitive English translations of his works by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman and fresh orchestral arrangements by Eric Svejcar from the award-winning 2006 Off Broadway production.
Charing Cross Theatre
London, WC2N 6NL
Box office: 08444 930 650
Thursday 16th October – Saturday 22nd November
Monday to Saturday at 7.45pm
Saturday matinee at 3.00pm
2 hours including interval
Tickets £10.00 – £22.50