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From Left - David Rossmer, Courtney Cook, Kevin Rockover.
From Left - David Rossmer, Courtney Cook, Kevin Rockover.

Theatre Review: Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris at Vermont Stage

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Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris runs at Vermont Stage in the FlynnSpace in Burlington through May 7. Resident theatre critic Connie Meng was at the opening night and has our review.

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Connie Meng
Theatre Critic

It's good to see JACQUES BREL being revived.  His songs are timeless, but oddly seem timelier now than in 1968 when the show opened in New York.  Brel's songs examine the human condition in all its complexity - love, compassion, greed, fear and anger at man's inhumanity to man.  He often hides his undercurrent of rage behind irony and humor.  If you're not familiar with his work, or know only his hit song of the early sixties "If We Only Have Love", this is an opportunity to get acquainted.

Set designer Jeff Modereger has transformed the FlynnSpace into a cellar night club complete with tables and chairs.  The band is placed at the back of the playing space in front of stone and brick walls overlooked by a lighted basement window.  There are two tables on either side of the platform for the cast members. This, along with a couple of stools, is all that's really necessary.  Robert William Wolff's lighting is effective, especially the white Christmas lights strung on the ceiling.

As for the costumes, if Angela Brand was trying for a fifties look, it doesn't work.  The ladies are wearing very dressy and remarkably unflattering black cocktail dresses while the men are in sport coats.  Like everything to do with JACQUES BREL, simpler is better.  Whatever happened to black turtlenecks?

The band, made up of Musical Director Tom Cleary on piano, James O'Halloran on guitar, Brian Johnson on percussion and Art DeQuasie on bass, is excellent and maintains a good balance with the singers.  They also entertain the audience before and after the show with some nifty jazz.

Although all four cast members have strong voices, the stand-out is David Rossmer.  He's a powerful singer and a good actor who understands and communicates the many levels of Brel's lyrics.  This is apparent in his interpretation of "Mathilde."  He accomplished the unusual feat on "Funeral Tango" of making the band giggle. I also particularly liked "Alone" and "Amsterdam."  Kevin Rockover does a nice job on "Fanette" and Erin Jerozal is very effective in her interpretation of "No Love You're Not Alone."  Courtney Cook is good in "Timid Frieda" and especially moving in "Old Folks."

The work of Director Stephen Golux and choreographer Kara Golex is uneven.  Some of the material and staging works very well, but some doesn't.  As I said earlier regarding the costumes, simplicity works the best.  The staging of "The Desperate Ones" is perfect.  It allows us to concentrate on the lyrics, music and emotion.  In "Marieke", arguably one of the most powerful songs,  Miss Jerozal's fine vocal performance is undercut by too much unnecessary movement the dissipates the emotion.  In "Carousel", the penultimate number, the panic should stem from the repetitiveness and acceleration of the song, not from inappropriate crack-the-whip staging.  I also missed the progression into attack in "Marathon."  These criticisms aside, Mr. Golux has helped his cast mine some of the depths of this wonderful material.

This isn't a perfect production, but it's a good one.  If you're not familiar with Jacques Brel's songs, this is a good introduction.  Take Kleenex!

On a scale of one to five the Vermont Stage production of JACQUES BREL gets four and one fourth ferry boats.  For North Country Public Radio this is Connie Meng. 

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