Skip to main content Skip to footer site map
Review: RIAN KEATING SINGS JACQUES BREL is a Rich Dessert at Don't Tell Mama

Review: RIAN KEATING SINGS JACQUES BREL is a Rich Dessert at Don't Tell Mama

Rian Keating Remembers the World of Jacques Brel.

In 1968, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris opened Off-Broadway. The revue of songs by the Belgian singer surprised everyone and ran for four years. It makes sense in hindsight. Brel, whose career spanned from the early '50s to the late '70s wrote very theatrical chansons about the world he observed rebuilding itself in the devastating aftermath of World War II. His songs are penetrating character studies that reflect a world-weary cynicism born out of seeing the world of your youth destroyed with no promise of something better rising from the ashes. It is no surprise that America, in the worst days of the Vietnam War was intrigued by Brel's glimpse into the pre-war world. Many of Brel's songs have a Proustian quality of remembering the past through a burnished, golden lens. And much like Proust's Remembrances of Things Past, Brel's plays-in-song feel like sitting down to a rich dessert, all brandy, and creme with a splash of old-world charm. Something to be savored.

The problem with an entire evening of Brel is that it starts to feel like eating 14 such rich desserts in a row. Delicious? Absolutely. But eventually, it's just too much. This is the challenge master storyteller Rian Keating set out to tackle in his show RIAN KEATING SINGS Jacques Brel which I caught last Saturday afternoon at Don't Tell Mama. Mr. Keating is adroit at getting to the heart of a story and so Jacques Brel is the perfect material for him to sink his teeth into. And he did. He is a marvelous example of acting through song, presenting a gallery of Brel's lovers, thinkers, rogues, and depressives with great agility.

The problem with this fine collection of songs is that Keating and director Tonya Moberly have not really given them a context for the audience to grab onto. In fact, Keating says remarkably little throughout his show, letting the songs speak for him. The only words in the evening are those of Brel himself. It seems a shame to restrict so fine a storyteller from doing the thing he does so well. I wanted to learn why these songs are important to Rian Keating. I wanted to know why he found them important to the world of 2022. Despite his fine performance, these questions are not answered, truly these questions are never posed. What we are left with is 14 rich desserts.

But scrumptious desserts they are. Keating thoroughly inhabits tunes like "Brussels." "Madeleine," "Marieke," "Fanette," "Girl in an Armchair," and "The Song for Old Lovers." He was especially good at playing both sides of a deteriorating affair in a medley of "If You Go Away" and "No Love, You're Not Alone." He illuminates the bleakness of "Old Folks" and "My Death." I was especially fond of "Days of the Waltz" a Ravel-like construction about the days of one's life whirling by at an ever-faster velocity. And he saved the best for last, singing Brel's most notable composition, "If We Only Have Love." He punctuated the evening with poems by Brel himself and Rod McKuen.

In full disclosure, I am not the biggest fan of Jacques Brel. His anti-optimist view of the world is antithetical to the joy of the chanson, in my opinion. But I am a huge fan of Rian Keating. I think his acting of Brel's songs is exemplary. He is also greatly aided by the wonderful arrangements and virtuoso playing of his musical director, Jeff Cubeta. I found this show beautifully acted and well sung, but structurally problematic. It is worth seeing for Mr. Keating's passionate performance and for Cubeta's wonderful arrangements. But I was left wanting a little less Jacques Brel and a whole lot more Rian Keating.

RIAN KEATING SINGS Jacques Brel is onstage again Thursday, November 3 at 7 pm. For tickets and information, go to For more about Rian Keating, follow him @rian.keating.3 on Instagram.

Jazz Singer Carol Sloane Passes Away at 85 Photo
Beloved jazz singer Carol Sloane died January 23 at a senior care center in Stoneham, Massachusetts. She was 85.

Julie Benko, Amanda Green & More to Perform at Birdland in February Photo
Birdland Jazz Club and Birdland Theater are open this February with a full slate of nightly performances! See Julie Benko, Amanda Green, and many more.

Shaun Cassidy to Make 54 Below Debut This Summer Photo
Multi-platinum artist and pop culture icon, Shaun Cassidy, will make his 54 Below debut on June 22-24, 2023 with his new solo show, The Magic of a Midnight Sky, a funny and deeply personal musical exploration of his life, career, and family.

Linda Purl Starts Strong Photo
When Linda Purl and co. are in the room, you can bet the room is going to be SRO.

From This Author - Ricky Pope

Ricky Pope is a very busy actor/musical director/vocal coach who has toured the country with the national tours of ANNIE, ALL SHOOK UP AND TITANIC. He has worked in regional theatres in 49 states i... (read more about this author)

Review: SUSAN MACK Delivers an Introspective Evening in YESTERDAYS at BirdlandReview: SUSAN MACK Delivers an Introspective Evening in YESTERDAYS at Birdland
November 15, 2022

We all love to reminisce. A trip down memory lane is highly satisfying. In fact, for those of us who are devotees of The American Songbook, reminiscing is sort of our gig. Susan Mack has made it the theme of her evening, SUSAN MACK: YESTERDAYS, which opened yesterday at Birdland. And Ms. Mack is, indeed a singer worth remembering. She has a voice as full-bodied as honey, with impeccable pitch and delicious taste in music. She put together a program of classy, often rueful tunes about days gone by, both hers and ours. As she points out, the beauty of calling a show YESTERDAYS is that you can sing anything written before today.

November 10, 2022

There is one place on the modern East Side where that world of NY cognoscenti is as alive and vibrant as it ever was. Café Carlyle is the perfect setting for John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey’s show EAST SIDE AFTER DARK. They serve up tune after tune from that 50s and 60s scene where life didn’t begin until after sunset and jazz was the currency of the smart set. Pizzarelli, son of jazz great Bucky Pizzarelli, is a world-class guitarist who has worked with a long list of luminaries including Rosemary Clooney, James Taylor, and Paul McCartney. He has recorded 20 solo albums and has appeared on at least twice that number for other artists. Jessica Molaskey, a Broadway baby if ever there was one, has appeared in a dozen or more hit shows including Sunday in the Park With George, Cats, Crazy For You, Chess, Oklahoma!, City of Angels, Parade, A Man of No Importance, and Songs For a New World to name only a few.

Review: GOLDIE DVER: SWEET BEGINNING Is a Reason For Thanksgiving at Laurie Beechman TheatreReview: GOLDIE DVER: SWEET BEGINNING Is a Reason For Thanksgiving at Laurie Beechman Theatre
November 7, 2022

Ms. Dver looks great, sounds, great, and breezes through her treatise on gratitude with a light and confident touch. She is, as Cole Porter would say The Hostess With the Mostess’ on the Ball.

ALBUM REVIEW: Roberta Donnay BLOSSOM-ING! is a Delightful Way to Spend a Rainy AfternoonALBUM REVIEW: Roberta Donnay BLOSSOM-ING! is a Delightful Way to Spend a Rainy Afternoon
October 29, 2022

Roberta Donnay has turned her attention to the legacy of Blossom Dearie for her 10th studio album BLOSSOM-ING!, subtitled 'Celebrating the Music of Blossom Dearie.' And it is a celebration indeed. Throughout her 3 decade career, Donnay has explored the many sounds and genres of the 20th century. She is a stylistic shape-shifter who is equally at home in rock, folk, and jazz. For this album, she accentuates the wispy quality of her instrument to match the ethereal nature of Dearie. She has captured Blossom Dearie's gift for playful storytelling and interplay between vocalist and instrumentalist. Her album is a joy to listen to from start to finish.

Review: RIAN KEATING SINGS JACQUES BREL is a Rich Dessert at Don't Tell MamaReview: RIAN KEATING SINGS JACQUES BREL is a Rich Dessert at Don't Tell Mama
October 27, 2022

Ricky reviews Rian's JACQUES BREL night at Don't tell Mama.