Category Archive for: ‘Greg & Suzanne Angeo’

“Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” at Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma CA

Julia Hathaway, Kevin Singer, Michael Van Why, Valentina Osinski

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

Photo by Eric Chazankin

Cinnabar audiences should be prepared: this is not your typical musical or revue. It’s a classy, gutsy cabaret-style presentation of the profoundly moving music of Jacques Brel, a Belgian-born singer-songwriter who rose to fame in 1950s France. Brutal honesty and self-deprecating humor, delivered with charm, wit and sometimes anger, are Brel hallmarks. This is music that brands your soul.

Brel’s songwriting style is based on the chanson, a musical form with roots in Medieval France. Back then, chansons were epic poems set to simple melodies; think Troubadour songs. The style evolved over the centuries, and by the 1940s it had become deeply embedded in  French popular culture with its stories of truth, passion and the meaning of life. Thus the “nouvelle chanson” gained worldwide fame through singers like Edith Piaf, who heavily influenced Brel’s work. In turn, scores of modern singers and songwriters have felt Brel’s influence.

“Jacques Brel…” debuted Off-Broadway in 1968 and has been performed all over the world. English translations of Brel’s lyrics were done for the show by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman. Four performers are charged with delivering each song as though it were a small one-act play.  Some pieces are solos, and some call for two, three or all four to perform together.

Bay Area vocal powerhouses Michael Van Why, Julia Hathaway, Valentina Osinski and Kevin Singer are well up to the task, delivering strong performances in Brel standards like the snappy and cynical “Madeleine”, the hauntingly poignant “Old Folks” and the hilarious, ironic “Next” (Van Why calls it “the gonorrhea song”). ”Carousel” is one of best numbers and serves as the rousing finale. A member of the band even stands up and juggles little pink balls.

Nuanced and flexible staging by director Elly Lichenstein merges well with the work of the choreographer (Joseph Favalora) and set designer (Wayne Hovey). Five onstage musicians wield instruments besides the usual suspects of trumpet, flute, guitar, bass and drums. Of course there is a very French accordion – to provide that cabaret atmosphere – but also a ukulele and marimba. This produces a lively accompaniment, although at times the vocalists seem drowned out by the musicians and are hard to hear. This weakens the effect of such a lyric-driven show. Perhaps wireless mikes could solve this problem?

To sum up, “Jacques Brel…” is an emotional rollercoaster: bleak and buoyant, laughter mixed with tears, sunshine through the rain. His raw, visceral musical style connects with the human spirit as few others can. And local audiences are responding, since the show’s run has been extended through January 26th.

When: Now through January 26, 2014

8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

2 p.m. Sundays

Tickets: $25 to $35

Location: Cinnabar Theater

3333 Petaluma Blvd North, Petaluma CA
Phone: 707-763-8920

Website: www.cinnabartheater.org

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