Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

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JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS, Brown Couch Theatre Company, at National Pastime Theater. It's a tad disconcerting to see young performers throw themselves into Jacques Brel's anthems of disillusionment. More bitter than sweet, his songs celebrate weathered survivors, wronged lovers, and battered souls, from soldiers furious with the killing game to elderly folks waiting to die. A young cast should be out of its element in this revue. And admittedly this one has problems with diction and projection. Plus these twentysomethings sometimes scream what should be sung, perhaps because they haven't quite earned the anguish. The synthesizer accompaniment occasionally overwhelms their voices, and the stage is sepulchrally lit.

But overall Ryan Magnuson's eight cast members pull off this difficult piece, fusing the energy of youth with the propulsive drive of 21 of Brel's stirring songs. The women do full justice to the tender harmonies of "Timid Frieda," and the ensemble whips Brel's characteristically accelerating "Carousel" into a proper whirlwind and dances the bejesus out of the delirious "Madeleine." Though several of the singers are strong, Anthony Martinez and Elizabeth Dowling stand out: he delivers the angry fantasy "Jackie" with unforced urgency, and she quietly accumulates all the heartbreak of "Old Folks." And after so much despair, the wishful thinking of the final number, "If We Only Have Love," really registers.

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