Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - Southern

Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well and Living In Paris

The New Vista Theatre Company, in association with The Broward Center for the Performing Arts and TIGER Theatricals, presents the musical revue Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. The musical is based on the music, lyrics and commentary of singer/songwriter Jacques Brel, with English lyrics, additional material and production concept by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman.

Jacques Romain Georges Brel was born in Brussels in 1929. Brel started his work life in a cardboard factory co-owned by his father, and he seemed destined to follow in his father's footsteps. He was more interested in culture than business, however, and joined the Catholic-humanist youth organization Franche Cordée, where he sang and acted. There he met Thérèse Michielsen ('Miche') whom he married in 1950. He achieved minor success in Belgium in the early 1950s singing his own songs. His first major recognition came in 1956 when he recorded the song "Quand On N'a Que l'Amour" (If We Only Have Love). Brel lived most of his life in Paris, becoming one of the most popular singers of French songs. He died of lung cancer in the suburbs of Paris in 1978 and is buried in the Marquesas Islands.

Brel's decision to end his extensive touring in the late 1960s led to an Off-Broadway revue of his songs called Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. It opened at the Village Gate in Greenwich Village on January 22, 1968. Songwriter Mort Shuman and playwright Eric Blau were able to translate Brel's lyrics closely, and convey into English the pathos and wit of his story-songs. The revue played nearly 2,000 performances, becoming one of the longest running Off-Broadway shows in history. Columbia Records released a double-LP box set of the complete show as an original cast album. The revue was revived on Broadway in 1972 and 1981, and Off-Broadway in 2006. It was also turned into a film in 1975, with Brel himself making a cameo appearance. The success of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris firmly established Brel's popularity in English-speaking countries with songs such as "If We Only Have Love," "If You Go Away" and "Jackie."

Jacques Brel's romantic lyricism sometimes revealed darkness and bitter irony. He wrote and sang songs about love, death and the struggle that is life. He was not shy about portraying the unsavory side of life and love. His insightful and compassionate portraits of the so-called dregs of society - the alcoholics, drifters, drug addicts and prostitutes - evaded easy sentimentality. Scattered moments of tender love songs show flashes of barely suppressed frustration and resentment. He was a man of brooding brilliance and, thankfully, his work lives on in seeming contradiction to one of his own quotes: " ... in a man's life, there are two important dates: his birth and his death. Everything else is not very important."

This production of Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well and Living in Paris features a lavish coffeehouse/bar set beautifully lit in moody reddish tones. The live four-piece orchestra, particularly Phil Hinton on piano, plays the show very well. The four-person cast is smartly seasoned, as the content of this show's lyrics can lose meaning in the hands of too youthful an ensemble. Some of the songs, such as "Alone," clearly demonstrate their ability to sing tight four-part harmonies very well. It is doubtful you will see Jacques Brel done as well as in this production by the New Vista Theatre.

Avi Hoffman manages to be both mature in his portrayal of the songs' intent while still having a youthful energy. His mischievous nature peeks through in the song "Jackie." He also has interesting physical contrast to a lanky Tangi Columbel, whose genuine French accent is a nice addition to the authentic feel of the show. Tangi seems able to handle both comic and pensive moments, and is best in his duet with Lisa, "Ne Me Quitte Pas" (If You Go Away).

Laura Turnbull has a solid singing voice and a lovely calmness on stage. Her acting and singing in "Carousel" comprise one of the best moments in the show, as she paints a picture of escalating madness. Lisa Manuli has the voice of an angel; it is not only strong and clear and beautiful, but always connected emotionally to what is happening. She is haunting in "If You Go Away" and "My Childhood."

The New Vista Theatre production of Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living In Paris will be presented through February 3, 2008 at the West Boca Performing Arts Center. The West Boca Performing Arts Center is located 3 miles West of 441 at 12811 Glades Rd. in Boca Raton, FL. For information and tickets you may contact them by phone at 561-482-4144 or 888-284-4633, or online at

The New Vista Theatre Company is a professional theatre company, founded by Artistic Director Avi Hoffman. The theatre presents plays and musicals year round, hiring both Equity and non-union actors and actresses. New Vista is a division of The National Center for Jewish Arts, Inc. (NCJCA), a 501(c) 3 non-profit corporation. The purpose of this division is to produce professional theatre for the South Florida community utilizing the 850 seat West Boca venue.

Avi Hoffman*
Laura Turnbull*
Lisa Manuli*
Tangi Columbel

Director: Avi Hoffman**
Music Director: Phil Hinton
Co-Direction and Musical Staging: Andrew Rasmussen**
Scenic Design: Ian Almedia
Lighting Design: Lance Blank
Sound Design: Traci Almedia
Costume Design: Paula Villar
Stage Manager: Lisa Lamont*

*Indicates a member of Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.

**Indicates a member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, an independent national labor union.

See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere

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