I was invited to this show last Saturday by Sing’Theatre (www.singtheatre.com) which I was happy to accept, chiefly because I am a huge fan of George Chan, who directed and acted in it. Other than that, both the company and the show was unfamiliar to me. Now that I have made acquaintance, I shall look out for more of its performance by this company, which George Chan is the Deputy Artistic Director.
Jacques Brel (1929-1978) stands as “The Most Famous Belgian” and was a leading singer and song writer in the 1960s and 70s European scene. His songs, in French, had been translated and performed by Madonna, David Bowie and Barbara Streisand. His songs mostly protest against inequalities and discrimination, capitalism and dictatorship.
This show is described as a musical revue or juke-box musical, where every song is presented as a mini-play. ( A revue is a type of multi-act popular theatrical entertainment that combines music, dance and sketches.) Helm by four talented cast comprising Frances Lee, Stephanie Van Driesen, Matt Jasper and George Chan, I was impressed with the voices of soprano Stephanie and and tenor Matt. Sitting up close in the small SOTA theatre, I could see how the anguish faces of the cast in one scene transformed into cherry ones within a few seconds with a change of song. I enjoyed the songs, performed both in French and English. Mostly ballads, there were tangos and jazz as well. The singers performed the songs with perfect diction that no subtitles were needed. (Contrasted this to the last two musicals I attended, which I couldn’t understand the lyrics.)
The simple stage had a screen as a background which gave some clues to the content of the songs. Simple props like suitcases and umbrellas were used to tell the story. A pair of horn on Frances Lee’s head turned her into a devil in the first performance Le Diable, and a bull fifteen songs later in The Bulls. That basically counted as the only change in costume if you disregard the hat and trench coat. I am glad though, for this simplicity allowed the voices and acts to shine though without distraction.
I was surprised by the poor turn out, as it was a Saturday night, and we were a minority in a mostly Caucasian audience, perhaps highlighting the point that locals must have thought this show to be in French.
My deep appreciation to Sharm, Communication Manager at Sing’Theatre for giving me this opportunity to experience Jacques Brel.