SHOWING : April 15, 2009 - May 10, 2009
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]
Another Ride on the Carousel|
Thursday, May 14, 2009 ||
I have to confess to being a little too happy with the way my stylized review of the Alliance’s 2007 production of “Jacques Brel” suggested the style of Brel’s songs, so, with little shame (and some heavy editing), I revive it here:|
LOVE AND DEATH AND THE WHOLE D@#N THING
… The Seventies Flash …
It is fall, 1973, and I am love for the first time in my life. We are brought together by a common love of literature, movies, and the songs from “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.” She uses three of the songs for her senior Film Class project (remember Super-8?). The lyrics of “The Bulls” sneak their way into a tacky little stream-of-consciousness story I’ve written (From the Dedalus Neologism File: Pulchrimedusitude – an intimidating beauty that can turn a man to stone). When she splatters my heart across the horizon, I find myself living the lyrics of “Fanette.”
A year later, the execrable film version of “Brel” lands with the sound of something soft and smelly -- pretentious pre-MTV videos sung by the original off-Broadway cast, all of whom look like deer in headlights (and I’ve always been irritated by Elly Stone’s voice). The only good number is simple, Brel himself, brooding over his beer and singing “Ne Me Quitte Pas.” The number makes it into a Super-8 movie about obsessive love I make a year later. I keep on dancing through the nights and days.
… And The Eighties Bang …
Ten years after the fact, I have many friends, but no lovers. The memory of that heart-splattered landscape controls my life. I am directing a production of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.” I am keeping it simple. Our Music Director, a professional alcoholic, goes off the wagon and the show collapses. I keep on dancing through the nights and days.
… And the Nineties Whimper …
My best friend (no more than that) is a woman who rejects Brel in favor of Aznavour. I’ve seen two productions of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” both of which are terrible. In one, pretentious symbolism and sloppy research (miming machine guns while singing about Sacco and Vanzetti, for example) overwhelm the singers. In the other, the singers were just not good enough for the job. And still, my LP of the show skips from over-playing, my cassette of the show has melted from living in my car, and I haven’t yet bought into the CD revolution. Mort Shuman, translator of Brel’s songs, has joined Brel in death, that “old silver clock that waits for us all.” It seems no one is alive and well or living in Paris. But, I keep on dancing through the nights and days.
… And the Century Hangs …
I’ve married a woman who hates it that we don’t go dancing. We’ve started a family, moved to Marietta GA, and thrived. To my modified excitement, the Alliance Theatre announced plans to produce "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris." To my extreme excitement, the production was better than a cold beer on a warm night. I (and the Suzis) called it the best musical of the year.
With a sweet explosion, this production erased the sour smell of all those bad versions I’d suffered through (including my own aborted attempt). The Hertz Stage was transformed into a Paris Bistro, complete with working bar. (I recommended the Chardonnay. It had amusing tactics.) Sofas lined the top wall and rose-colored chandeliers softened the mood. The show was completely redesigned - songs were dropped and added. Songs were rearranged so that the action that ends one song smoothly segued into the next. These were the Brel songs I fell in love with in college, the songs of Love and Death and Death-of-Love and Love-of-Death and Aging and Growing and Lost Innocence and Found Experience and Judges Becoming Judged and Emotional Surprise and Lyrics that Strike at the Soul -- the whole panoply of life that can always be found in a surprising bottle of Chardonnay with pretzel-logic tactics. As to the new songs, well, I adored “Girls and Dogs,” not so much “ça va” (though I didn’t hate it).
And the emphasis throughout was on the relationships, the sub-text between the singers, the unspoken unsung yearnings that are the real meanings of the songs and of the show’s ongoing popularity. This isn’t about symbolism or “deep meanings of life” - it’s about the ties that bind and tear our hearts.
And, now, to fill a gap in their schedule, the Alliance has brought it back, moving it upstairs to the “big house,” and restaging it to take advantage of a larger capacity for theatrics and affect. It’s still very good, but no longer is it “Best of the Year” good. Hanging chandeliers provide more clutter than mood, and the set is more brothel than cafe. Intimacy has been sacrificed, and a little something is lost. I missed Craig Meyer trawling the audience with his “Bachelor’s Dance;” Courtenay Collins no longer reaches in pain towards her lost love in the reverb-heavy “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” she reaches to us with Piaf-lite pretense; unspoken subtext and interaction is lost in the wide stage expanse and flashing lights; the group choreography isn’t as tight or focused or relaxed. Still, newcomer Steffi Garrard impresses with her own heart-splatter moment with “I Loved,” Joseph Dellger still knocks us dead with “Amsterdam,” and Mr. Meyer and Ms. Collins both have many bravura moments. The songs sound great in these voices, and the miking, for once, is invisible and unobtrusive.
The truth is I still love this show, in spite of all these complaints, in spite of the freshness of the Hertz-memory, in spite of the yielding to bigger-is-not-always-better pretense. I know these songs better than any other music. They are the story of my past and my joys and the ache that dominated twenty-five years of my life. I have heard them a thousand thousand times. And yet I still find the songs fresh here – there are still new emotions and unconsidered interpretations and fresh subtexts in most of them. Previously serious songs twinkle with new moments of humor. Previously light songs flirt with a moment or two of profound heartbreak. And one song, “Old Folks,” a song that I have usually found condescending, still finds new life by being put in the mouths of a young couple contemplating the many years they have ahead of them.
But, more surprisingly, (and, of course, on a more personal note), not once in the entire evening am I reminded of my own “Fanette.” This is music that should provide an emotional link to that 1973 autumn. But the production still leaves my mind focused solely on the show, on wishing my beautiful and patient spouse were there to share it with me. It is only now, in searching for a theme for this review, that I am reminded of the time I fell in love along with these songs.
In love with Fanette.
I have to call her Fanette.
You see, I’ve forgotten her name.
-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)
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Jacques Brel- At the Alliance....A Disappointment but Oustanding Performan|
Wednesday, May 6, 2009 ||
I was disappointed with the production of Jaques Brel at the Alliance. At intermission, I realized my expectations of the show in the grand Alliance Theatre were not being met. Why? This is the question that I asked myself....|
I think the love duets that were suppose to be heterosexual was not very believable to me based specifically on Craig Meyer. Yes, his voice is fantastic but there's more that was needed. I have no idea of his sexuality and it doesn't matter at all to me but I did feel he appeared to be a gay man playing in heterosexual love scene. The actresses were gorgeous and didn't feel the connection between him and the beauties such as the amazing Courtenay Collins with incredible stage presence and a voice that brings chills me. I have seen Courtaney perform over the years and she is always spectacular with her acting, dancing, looks, and singing. What a performer! Mr. Meyers had done some really great shows I have seen him in, his performance in this show didn't do it for me.
To me Courtaney Collins was my stand out of the show!
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| || What Duets? by Dedalus|
| Just asking. You're the second person to complain about Mr. Meyer's lack of masculinity in the love duets. Maybe my mind's been fogged by too many years (and too many hearings of these songs), but I can't recall any love duets at all. Most of the songs are either group numbers or "Love Regret" solos.|
Details, my friend! Thanks.
| || Two especially by uppermiddlebrow|
| Hey, Dedalus, your best idea on this disagreeable topic was that we should agree to disagree! I can't let a challenge of the facts pass, though I almost feel like apologizing for making the initial observation. Almost, but it would have been dishonest to ignore something that struck me immediately as awkward and only became more distracting as the evening progressed. Have you seen the show this run, by the way?|
Two songs stand out in my recollection where the fella is very embarrassing. I can't name them as I don't have the program to hand and I have a dreadful memory. One is where he's embracing and canoodling with one of the girls, lover-boy style: I think it was a duet, but he may have been the only singer, with the actress as a 'prop.' The other where he and the other actor are commiserating on how badly women treat them. Neither rang the slightest bit true.
He's a casting mistake if a significant number of audience members are struck the same way, and at best he adds no glamor to the show, just a good voice. (Nor would I, but I have no such pretensions.) The Alliance can do much better - this is not supposed to be amateur hour.
Jacques Brel is not quite living at the Alliance|
Sunday, April 26, 2009 ||
The singing is very good, the cabaret set is evocative and lovely, the Alliance main stage space feels surprisingly intimate, the show entertaining. But Jacques Brel is inevitably missing.|
A French colleague introduced me to Brel's records when I worked in Paris in the mid-70s. Brel's fierce humanity is touching and his voice had just the right mix of virility, vulnerability and Belgian outsider-ness for the poetry of his lyrics. It's impossible not to lose some of that in translation when a four-member American ensemble performs the songs, mostly in English.
And the casting choice to avoid impersonating Brel takes us farther from the real thing. Great voices are just not enough to carry the parts. While the actresses are appropriately a treat for the eyes, the actors lack Brel's handsome charm. Joseph Delleger sparkled at times, but his age and looks are not right for the role.
Craig Meyer - there's just no kind way to say this - has the looks and charisma of a mailroom clerk and dresses accordingly. To all appearances gay, he simply does not convince in the very heterosexual love duets. Sure, gay songwriters of an earlier era sublimated yearnings and laments for unrequited love in songs ostensibly about women. But that's not what Brel was doing. It feels downright awkward to watch the guys commiserating over their treatment at the hands of women when one of them pretty clearly couldn't give a rip. Surely the Alliance could have found an actor with as good a singing voice as Mr Meyer's, an attractive physique and heterosexual image. Does Daniel May sing?
The show got off to a chilly start, but in the fourth number, Timid Frieda, Steffi Garrard established a rapport with the audience. Shawn Megorden, standing in as understudy for Courtenay Collins, did an amazingly good job with Ne Me Quitte Pas, even her French sounding pretty authentic to this once-practised ear. She's not Jacques Brel, but her version of the song projected a range of emotions that exploited the lyrics very successfully. Craig Meyer for once fit the part as the fantasist in Madeleine, which in this version had less of the contempt that lurks in the original. The Saturday night audience - a bit on the stodgy, if not geriatric side - seemed unsympathetic to Brel's anti-war punchline in The Bulls, which was a pity. But Mr Delleger certainly knocked their socks off with Brel's greatest song of all, Amsterdam. That one requires ferocity, not lover-boy passion, to bring out the pathos of gritty port life, and Delleger provided it in full measure. I would have gladly listened to an encore. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW] [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
| || Agree to Disagree by Dedalus|
| These rebuttals will hopefully end up the "agree to disagree column," but I need to express them anyway.|
I have no problem with none of the actors physically resembling Brel, and, to my knowledge, no production has ever tried to evoke him personally, or his own unique singing style. I saw one production which include a portrait of him as the main set piece, but that was probably more an attempt at dramaturgical suggestion. This show was conceived an homage to the songs themselves, not to recreate Brel as a performer. If you were ever unfortunate enought to see the 1973 film of this, the scene with Brel himself sticks out like a sore thumb (in a good way), and, in a way, shows the folly of a director going down the path you're suggesting. Of course, my reaction may be a result of me falling in love with these songs years before I ever saw or heard Brel himself, so my first impression of them was other people singing them
As to Mr. Meyer, maybe I'm carrying over too many memories of what he did in the more intimate Hertz venue, but I didn't think he came across as gay at all. No, he doesn't have that super-macho gallic ruggedness of Brel himself, but the songs he was assigned didn't really require them. In fact, since most of them ("Fanette" and "Bachelor Dance" in particular) are centered on lost love and not aggresive sexuality, a less-rugged-looking singer will, in my mind, do them greater justice. At no time did I ever doubt his sincerity in his love duets.
BTW, I'm 100% with you "Amsterdam" -- have you ever heard David Bowie's version?
| || rebut rebut by uppermiddlebrow|
| Of course there's so much that is subjective here and I respect Brad's opinion. It's also fun to provoke some discussion. Perhaps, Brad, the point is better made if I ask why the girls should be gorgeous and the men nothing to look at? Interesting that this comes up just after the discovery of Susan Doyle or whatever her name is.|
| || a theater pet peeve of mine by Okely Dokely|
| I'm not the least bit homophobic (in fact, I'm a huge fan of gay people), nor have I seen the show or know the orientation of any of the actors in this one, but it's a slight pet peeve of mine when I see a gay actor playing a straight character and not be able to "butch it up." It's distracting to me and takes me out of it a little bit.|
I would say the same thing if I saw a straight actor unconvincingly play a gay character. Now, at Onstage Atlanta in 2005, I thought Nick Tecosky (reportedly straight) did a brilliant job as a gay character in the Angels in America plays.
| || I can't believe I'm even doing this by abcdefg|
| but as someone who knows Craig personally, he's straight. Why can't people be who they are without others stereotyping them into something by certain characteristics they may have? I think that this was more of a personal attack than a valid point in the review and should be removed. |
| || To abcdef... by Dedalus|
| It's a personal attack only if you consider being gay an insult. I have to admit that Mr. Meyer used a few effeminate mannerisms -- but I thought they were legitimate actor choices and worked very well in their context. |
| || Not what I had expected ....Left wanting more too by StageFan|
| I agree with you on Craig Meyers performance. I didn't feel the charm and masculinity needed for the love duets. Have no idea about him personally, but I read it as a gay man playing a heterosexual love scene.|
I love Courtaney Collins! I have seen her so many times through the years. What a triple threat!!!!
Tuesday, April 21, 2009 ||
A boo after the opening number. Walkouts during the second act opener. Wide stretches of the auditorium devoid of people. The spottiest of standing ovations. These are not signs of a crowd-pleaser.|
Susan V. Booth's program notes state about "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" that "we produced it a few years back." It was produced in the downstairs Hertz stage in late 2007. That's last season. It was a part of last season's lineup, and it's also a part of this season's lineup. Announcing a world premiere Stephen King musical, then a world premiere I-Sondheim revue, and finally sticking in a retread from last season is not the way to build momentum for a new season. Especially when season ticket subscriptions are announced with "TBA" in the same position "Jacques Brel" holds in this season.
The cast are pretty much the same as last time around, with the pleasant addition of Steffi Garrard as a soprano who can actually hold her own with the other powerhouse voices in the cast. The set is also about the same, with the addition of eclectic chandeliers borrowed from a variety of local theatres, as announced in the curtain speech.
The production works better on the mainstage than it did downstairs. The intimacy of the Hertz stage was marred by the street clothes worn by the performers and the peculiar sightlines of numbers performed in odd corners of the audience space. Here, at least, all the audience (except the ones in the cabaret seating onstage) have a good view of all the action.
The show itself is depressing, and not at all what the current economic situation calls for. True, the next-to-last number is uplifting ("If We Only Have Love") and the last number is lively ("Carousel"). All the rest, though, are bittersweet at best. Updating the opening number to refer to the recession and "another job fair" starts the show on an extreme down note from which it never recovers. Why spend money these days to go to the theatre to see something that will leave you down in the dumps?
"Old Folks" remains the highlight of the show. Effectively staged, with Courtenay Collins and Joseph Dellger using just their acting skills to morph into an elderly couple, it touches the heart. It tells you a lot about the show that Death is one of the pleasanter themes. At least "death" is a five-letter word, as opposed to the unnecessary four-letter words peppering the show, along with crude groping posing as choreography.
Courtenay Collins gives the best performance, using her terrific voice, great movement, and excellent French to advantage. Joseph Dellger's French, by contrast, grates on the ear (and it's grating Velveeta or American Cheddar, not any variety of "fromage"). Craig A. Meyer and Steffi Garrard both have winning voices. All the cast have lots of energy. Too bad the energy is wasted on a production that's being brought back too soon. [POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
| || Stick to... by abcdefg|
| community theatre.|
| || Stuck to... by playgoer|
| Reviewing the quality (or lack of quality) in the productions I see, rather than dismissing other reviewers with snippy, supercilious comments.|
Oops, or is this one of those comments?
[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]
by David Shire (music), Richard Maltby, Jr. (lyrics)