Theatre Review by Manning Harris: “Jacques Brel Is
Alive and Well and Living in Paris”
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Atlanta INtown - IN The Loop
RETURN
When I first started visiting New York in the late 60's (as a tiny child of
course), I heard of an off-Broadway revue called “Jacques Brel Is Alive
and Well and Living in Paris” playing in the Village. The title always
intrigued me, but never quite enough to see the show—until now. In the
happiest of circumstances, the newly Tony-annointed Alliance Theatre is
presenting a sparkling, not-to-be missed version in its intimate Hertz
Theatre, directed by its own artistic director, Atlanta theatre's current “It”
girl, Susan V. Booth; and she and the Alliance do themselves proud. I
now see what all the fuss was about in that original long-running show
which quickly attained cult status. What we have here is a theatre
transformed into a lush, rococo, maroon and chandelier-festooned,
delightfully decadent Parisian nightclub (bravo, set designer Leslie
Taylor). And what does it all represent? Why, life, of course. And welcome
to the party. What good is sitting all alone in your room fasten your
seatbelts and all that jazz LIFE.

Jacques Brel (1929-1978) was a Belgian/French singer-songwriter who
came to prominence in the 50's and 60's. Eventually this show came to be
with English translations of Brel's passionate lyrics (he also wrote the
music), and opened in New York. The most delightful aspect of the
present production at the Hertz (through October 28) is its magical
cohesiveness and theatricality. Here we have a series of songs sung by
two men and two women (more about them shortly) with a decided
existential bent, yet completely full of romance, regret, longing,
wistfulness, and ecstasy—and somehow it all works beautifully as if it
were a well made play. Much credit is owed to Ms. Booth for her inventive,
witty, and provocative staging. There is never a dull moment nor is there
a spot in the theatre where something interesting is not happening. There
are tables in the front, and—no, I'm not going to spoil your fun of seeing
this show (and see it you must). Let's just say there are surprises aplenty,
and the second act is even more compelling than the first. We haven't
had a show with this refreshing and original an ambience in Atlanta for a
long time.

The actor/singers are all first rate: Joseph Dellger, Lauren Kling, and
Craig Meyer are all memorable and moving. And then there is Courtenay
Collins. This actress has either ingested some magic potion or had some
transforming experience in her life or both—because she is electrifying.
(Don't misunderstand; she's always been good—but here she just takes
you some place else.) She has an insouciance, a confidence, a je ne sais
quoi that are simply mesmerizing. Listen to her sing (in French) “Ne Me
Quitte Pas” and be knocked out. Or the haughty “Ca Va” and you'll swear
she's channeling Edith Piaf (as my companion that evening said). But I
think it's more of the magnetic hauteur of Maria Callas in her prime. (Fret
not; most of the songs are in English.) In any case, she is worth the price
of admission all by herself. But happily, you've also got all this other good
stuff I've been telling you about. The Alliance is stretching its Tony Award
muscles joyfully with this show. It runs through October 28. Don't miss.