BWW Reviews: JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL at the Fine Arts Center
If there's one thing Colorado Springs could use right now (apart from help rebuilding after yet another devastating wildfire), it's a little catharsis. So while the timeliness of Fine Arts Center's Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris certainly wasn't intentional, it's nonetheless welcome, as Brel's clever, cynical ballads are just the sort of thing to vent all that pent up frustration and clear away some room for hope.
Even if Brel's name is unfamiliar his music likely isn't, as he's been widely covered in the English speaking world by artists including Judy Collins ("The Dove"), David Bowie ("Amsterdam" and "My Death"), and Nirvana ("Seasons in the Sun"). The cause for his broad appeal and influence is made obvious in Eric Blau and Mort Shuman's tongue-twistingly titled musical revue: his witty, poetic lyrics (translated into English by Blau and Shuman) celebrate life and death, love and loss in a way that is accessible across generations and cultural experiences. They transform an often harsh, cruel reality into something beautiful, just as the revue's quartet of singers (Lacey Connell, Max Ferguson, Alejandro Roldan, and Halee Towne) bring music and life to Christopher L. Sheley's run-down cabaret set.
Individually the performers work very well, with solos ranging from humorous ("Mathilde") to mournful ("Old Folks") to bitterly cynical ("Alone," "Next"). Ferguson and Towne have the standout voices, the former's powerful baritone ringing through the auditorium on "Amsterdam" and the latter lending a sweet, reflective quality to pieces like the torch-song-with-a-twist "I Loved." Irony and satire abound-Roldan's "Statue" of a war hero laments his maudlin, inaccurate epitaph and the kids smoking pot by his pedestal-but there are grace notes of lighter humor as well, as in "Timid Frieda" where Connell undoes a pair of would-be thieves. Sadly, the quartet numbers tend to dampen Jacques Brel's momentum rather than maintaining it; the lyrics become muddled and the humor, especially on the futilely optimistic "Madeleine," gets lost.
Cynicism in theater is best when it's offset with a touch of hope, and Jacque Brel does that, even if the transition is abrupt-the tender finale "If Only We Have Love" comes but two songs after the angry, incisive "Next." But the result is uplifting, and the need to sneak into a French cabaret for two hours-to laugh, to cry, to rage, or just to get out of the heat and smoke for a short while-is extremely tempting.
Jacques Brel IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS and at the Fine Arts Center now through June 30th at 7:30pm Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 and Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. For tickets, contact the box office at 719-634-5583 or visit www.csfineartscenter.org.
Photo Credit: Jeff Kearney
Halee Towne, Max Ferguson, Lacey Connell