Jacques Brel alive, well and living in the Third Ward
The company will open Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28. The revue runs through Feb. 20 in the Cabot Theatre at the Broadway Theatre Center.
American audiences know Brel, who sold millions of records in Europe, through covers by American artists. Everyone from Sinatra to Streisand recorded versions of one or more of Brel’s romantic ballads.
The Skylight’s production is based on the original 1968 off-Broadway revue and on some of the revisions in the 2006 New York revival. The show marks the Skylight main-stage directing debut of longtime associate artistic director Ray Jivoff. The pianist and music director is Richard Carsey, former Skylight music director and artistic director.
“Brel’s music is gorgeous and thought-provoking,” Jivoff says. “His songs are powerful – some are very romantic, others are rather dark and have surprising twists.”
The anthem-like If We Only Have Love opens and closes the revue. Rod McKuen, pop poet laureate of the 190s, translated this and many Brel songs, including the evergreen If You Go Away (Ne Me Quitte Pas).
The Skylight cast will sing most of them in English, but will render several in alternating French and English verses. Jivoff found a local Belgian-born trombonist who was willing to coach the four singers in the subtleties of Brel’s Flemish-accented French.
Jivoff says that each song tells a story complete within itself. Many songs build to dramatic conclusions known via the “Brelian crescendo.” The more than two dozen songs in the revue roughly follow Brel’s life, with its tragedies and complexities.
The set, designed by Keith Pitts, re-creates a theater warehouse. Props, such as a wheel and a clock, symbolize elements in the songs.
Jivoff and artistic director Bill Theisen cast the show with three Skylight veterans and one newcomer.
“Three of the four performers are familiar to Milwaukee,” Jivoff says. “Alison Mary Forbes appeared in the Skylight’s production of Rent. I first worked with her when she was 12, doing Caddie Woodlawn at First Stage. Liz Baltes has deep family roots at Skylight – her late father was a music director at the old space on Jefferson. Steve Koehler teaches acting and physics at Milwaukee High School of the Arts, a Skylight partner school. He was in the Skylight productions of Little Shop of Horrors, Spitfire Grill, Floyd Collins and Man of La Mancha. PJ Baccari is making his Skylight debut.”
Tickets for Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, are $22.50 – $65 at the Broadway Theatre Center box office, 158 N. Broadway, (414) 291-7800 and online.