Not only does JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS (@ Gloucester Stage through July 6th) still work, it packs a walloping sardonic punch. You don’t need elaborate staging or fancy costumes, just singers who can inhabit a lyric, and oh, of course, a spotlight.
Director Eric C. Engel and company revel in the simplicity and at the same time, the multiplicity of Brel’s incomparable chansons. Brel’s words (exquisitely translated by Eric Blau) reach into your very soul and you find yourself mourning a lost love, lost innocence, or a world lost out there in space. You’re hearing his words but you feel like they’re yours.
Doug Jabara reminded me of another baritone who performed the role early on: Theo Bikel. Jabara is a standout in the Gloucester production, living a world of hurt and desire in one fleeting song: “Mathilde’s Come Back to Me.” Then he plunges us into the depths of “Amsterdam.”
Jennifer Ellis sits on the floor, waiting for “My Death” wrapped in a sheet and we are contemplating our own mortality as the drum (Don Holm) slowly beats away time. Then she’s softly begging/singing the plaintive “Don’t Leave Me” and we’re slain.
Daniel Robert Sullivan struts Brel’s defiant songs, like “Jackie,” who just wants to be “cute…in a stupid ass way.” And he delivers a searing indictment of animal cruelty with “The Bulls” who “bleed for us…we ask them to suffer for us…to drop dead for us.” Brel even conjures a “hell where matadors burn.”
But the show stopper is Shana Dirik, whether she’s giving sly payback in “I Loved” or pulling out all the stops with Brel’s paean to Belgium, the soaring anthem “Marieke, Marieke.” She’s a force of nature.
Alas, in a few songs, music director David McGrory’s keyboard drowned out a lyric or two but it’s tribute to the power of Brel’s every word, that we wanted desperately to hear them all.