A modest rendition of `Jacques Brel'

Everyman Theatre does the revue in black and white


May 25, 2004|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Step into Everyman Theatre these days and you'll find yourself transported to New York's Greenwich Village - more specifically, to a hip nightclub in the late 1960s.

Designer Wally Coburn has replaced the theater's usual seats with round tables and bentwood chairs. On stage, a combo of four musicians and four cabaret singers are performing more than two dozen songs in several languages by Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel.

A modest revue conceived and translated by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris introduced Brel's work to American audiences in 1968.

FOR THE RECORD - The name of the set designer of Everyman Theatre's production of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris was misspelled in yesterday's Today section. Baltimorean Wally Coberg designed the set.

The show's songs deal with love (both lost and found), aging, death and opposition to war. The tone of the music and lyrics ranges from ironic to melancholy, with an occasional jaunty number for a change of pace. And many of the songs are characterized by abrupt - and sometimes spoken - endings. All in all, they're somewhat of an acquired taste.

Under Donald Hicken's direction, Everyman's singers handle the challenging material with results that are never less than adequate and occasionally quite affecting.

Among the more moving numbers is a duet - "La Chanson des Vieux Amants" ("Song of the Old Lovers") - added for this production. An account of a pair of longtime lovers "finally at peace/yet alone," the song is poignantly performed by dulcet-voiced Amanda Johnson and Sally Martin, sometimes with one singing in French and the other in English simultaneously, and sometimes alternately.

Martin is at her best leading "Carousel," an increasingly fast and furious number that is as much about the rat race of modern life as it is about a carnival ride. In other songs, however, her voice has a vibrato-tinged sameness to it, whatever the spirit or meaning of the material.

Many of Brel's songs tell stories, requiring performers as adept at acting as singing. Christopher Bloch displays a talent for both in songs such as "Le Gaz," in which he comically portrays a gas man who lusts after a woman in whose home he reads the meter, or "Bachelor's Dance," in which, donning a yellow silk dressing gown, he describes the dream "girl that I will marry," then dashes off after a shadow - perhaps because this perfect bride exists only in shadows and dreams.

Least effective of the foursome is Dan Manning, whose less-than-crisp diction is accentuated by the show's regrettable use of microphones.

Also regrettable are designer Debra K. Sivigny's peculiar black-and-white costumes, which get even more peculiar after intermission, when Manning appears in tuxedo trousers, a black shirt and striped suspenders, which make him look like a gangster, and, odder still, Johnson wears a black dress with white lace trim, which makes her look like a maid.

The band, led by musical director/pianist James R. Fitzpatrick, provides serviceable accompaniment, with Bloch and especially Manning earning extra kudos for sitting in on flute and trumpet, respectively.

Jacques Brel concludes with the songwriter's best-known number, If We Only Have Love, one of several songs featuring an anti-war statement. Brel, who died in 1979, wouldn't attend the show's 1968 New York debut because he objected to the United States' involvement in Vietnam. Everyman underscores the timeliness of his sentiments by adding "Baghdad" to the list of war-ravaged cities at the end of the song "The Bulls," reminding us that it's not just Brel's melodies that are alive and well, but also his politics.

Jacques Brel

Where: Everyman Theatre, 1727 N. Charles St.

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; matinees at 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Through June 20

Tickets: $18-$35

Call: 410-752-2208

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