Miranda Musical Society’s production captures the audience with a very moving musical revue of the work of the late Belgian songwriter and performer.
Jacques Brel was a major influence on English-speaking songwriters and performers such as David Bowie and Leonard Cohen, and English translations of his songs have been recorded by many top performers including Ray Charles and John Denver.
Brel died in 1949 but his songs endure, as do the English versions by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman which form the basis of this show which first opened in New York in 1968.
Themes of love, loss, aging, death and war are mixed with some light digs at society’s mores. We get insights into his life and world from his poetic lyrics.
A modest set suggests a French nightclub and the effective use of photos portrayed on a background screen enhance the atmosphere, allowing the highly talented singers to take us into another world.
Each of the excellent cast, Anne Marie Fanning, Jennifer Parbery, Nicholas Ryan, Margaret Short, Andrew Symes and Andrew Symes and Tim Wotherspoon have beautifully clear and modulated voices allowing us to hear every word in the story of the songs. They work equally strongly as soloists or as an ensemble, bringing out the nuances in each song.
In his song Brussels, Brel tells of childhood fun and the company dances like marionettes. Brel’s childhood, sadly, was interrupted by war and his music career developed in its wake. A mother laments for her lost boys in Sons Of, and in Next, a young man fights against the indignity of conscription.
Perhaps Brel’s best known song, If You Go Away (Ne Me Quitte Pas), is sung partly in French and was a big audience favorite. We were also offered comedy with Funeral Tango, as the singer continually rises from his own coffin, and The Middle Class as age changes one’s perception of fun. There is also a combination of emotions in I Loved where the song commences with the singer resenting the man who cheated on her, but finding the resilience to end the song with “I forgot his name”.
Led by Director Geraldine Turner and Musical Director Mark Cranston Reid, Brel’s odes, a mixture of romanticism, world-weariness and a touch of whimsy, made for a delightful and highly entertaining evening.
JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS is playing at the Sutherland Memorial School of Arts until 26 June.