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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 20, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 12
Jacques Brel is alive... in Seattle
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Jacques Brel is alive... in Seattle

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

JACQUES BREL IS
ALIVE AND WELL
& LIVING IN PARIS
ACT THEATRE
Through May 17


Jacques Brel may not be a name you recognize off the top of your head. His music might be another story. As a cabaret performer, composer and lyricist, Jacques Brel presented some incredible music during the 1960s and '70s that has crossed the ocean and influenced some of the biggest names in music. His work has been covered by: Nirvana, Barbra Streisand, Barry Manilow, David Bowie, Olivia Newton-John, Edith Piaf, Stink, Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra and the list goes on. In Seattle, the musical review of this avant-garde performer - Jacques Brel is Alive and Well & Living in Paris - has opened at ACT Theatre in collaboration with The 5th Avenue Theatre.

This is a musical revue so there is no storyline connecting the songs. The selection is presented without rhyme or reason representing the artist's lyric-driven music. The songs range from evoking feelings of deep emotional pain, love and turmoil, to the more comedic and often social commentary. The opening number 'Marathon' shows how music and dance have influenced countries from the 1920s through modern times. The song sets the tone for the rest of the show by presenting the songs that have influenced other artists.

The show is staged with five performers doing a variety of the artists many hit songs. Each performer works well together. Their voices all sound wonderful and harmonize well when doing group numbers such as 'The Desperate Ones,' 'Brussels,' or 'If We Only Have Love.' As expected the performers all have their own opportunity to shine with solo numbers, allowing each of them to show off their range of talents. The cast consists of two women (Cayman Ilika, Kendra Kassebaum) and three men (Eric Ankrim, Louis Hobson*, and Timothy McCuen Piggee), all of whom regular Seattle theater attendees should recognize and be familiar with their work.

Louis Hobson has appeared on Broadway (Next to Normal, Bonnie and Clyde) and is now living in Seattle where he has appeared in numerous productions (A Room with a View, Spamalot). His first moment comes midway through the first act with a song called 'Bachelor's Dance,' but it is the second moment with the commentary, 'The Statue,' that the audience can appreciate his control and direct delivery. Timothy McCuen Piggee has appeared in Catch Me If You Can, both on Broadway as well as in the world premiere at Seattle's 5th Avenue. His is the first solo with the tender 'Alone,' which hints to the audience of the enjoyment to be expected. The comedic song 'Jackie' confirms the strong voice and versatility of his range. Cayman Ilika has appeared numerous times on The 5th Avenue (Oliver!, Candide) and ACT (Vanities - A New Musical) stages. Her voice is pure and clear and a powerful instrument. While we have to wait until almost the end of Act 1 for her solo, when she delivers&she delivers! Her pride, power and anguish can be felt in the song 'Sons' in the First Act, and 'No Love, You're Not Alone' in the Second Act.

I will emphasize again that all five of the performers do wonderful jobs; but for this reviewer, two of them seemed to shine a nuance brighter. Eric Ankrim (Seattle and Broadway's First Date) seemed to add a touch of character to his&characters. From the opening group number to the passionate 'Mathilde,' he seemed to have an extra bounce in his step. His voice is strong and he emotes very well, making the (sometimes) obscure lyrics clearly understood. Kendra Kassebaum (The 5th Avenue's Grey Gardens and Broadway's Wicked, Assassins) should get an award for her work in this performance. That her voice is clear, crisp, and powerful doesn't begin to cover it. In her first two solos - 'I Loved' and 'My Death,' she shows the natural gift she has for making a song her own and allowing her emotions to come through. But it is in the Second Act's French number 'Ne Me Quitte Pas' (a song covered by many artists) that she takes full control. Ignore the lyrics projected on the screen behind (there are several interpretations of this avant-garde song) and let the sheer beauty of the music, and the incredible power of this woman's voice take you away on an emotional wave. Dusty Springfield and Cyndi Lauper have covered this song (under the title 'If You Go Away'), and Kendra easily holds her own. This song should be a permanent part of her performing repertoire.

While the show is presented very well and all of the performers do an excellent job, the music is definitely an acquired taste. It evokes a particular time frame of '60s and '70s world upheaval and each song is more of a chanson -telling an individual story through the music and (often) unconventional lyrics. While the songs may not be to every audience member's taste, it is still a good excuse to go and enjoy five incredibly talented performers presenting a seldom-produced musical.

Jacque Brel was born in Brussels in 1929. Beginning to play the guitar at 15, it was at age 23 that he first began in Belgium's cabaret circuit signing a contract with Phillips Records a year later. The same year the French star Juliette Gréco recorded Brel's song and his career took off. In the United States a song based on Brel's 'Le Moribond' ('The Dying Man') was recorded by the Kingston Trio and became the hit, 'Seasons in the Sun.' In the late '60s-'70s Brel almost completely retired from the stage and changed his vision to film. Before his death in 1978 from cancer, he had become an international star throughout Europe and the United States. His songs would go on to be recorded by Sting, Tom Jones, Dionne Warwick, Nancy Wilson, Shirley Bassey and many others.

After a successful Off-Broadway run (1,847 performances) Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris opened on Broadway on September 13, 1972. It closed after only 51 performances.

* NOTE: Louis Hobson performs through April 12th. Matt Owen will take over for the remainder of the show's run.

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