‘Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris’ at MetroStage by Julia L. Exline

MetroStage presents Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, a musical revue of the songs of Jacques Brel, an esteemed Belgian singer-songwriter whose music has been re-imagined through generations of artists (Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, and David Bowie, to name a few). Directed by Serge Seiden, and with musical direction by Jenny Cartney, this heartfelt homage breathes life into each of the 29 songs that it covers – giving them their own unique stories from which they thrive.

Natascia Diaz, Sam Ludwig, Bayla Whitten, and Bobby Smith  in MetroStage’s ‘Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living is Paris.’ Photo by Christopher Banks.

Set Designer Daniel Pinha keeps the stage clean, simple and very effective with a screen that changes colors and a band that sits off to the side, and who sometimes even interacts with the ensemble while they are onstage. The band consists of Jenny Cartney (Piano/Accordian/Conductor), Yusef Chisholm (Bass), David Cole (Guitar), and Greg Holloway (Percussion). This is a talented group of musicians, as they not only play beautiful music, but their lush sound is so well balanced in this intimate space. Sound Designer Daniel Jacob Null also ensures that the music is delivered crisply, and Lighting Designer Jessica Winfield focuses in on specific performers with a well-targeted spotlight.

Costume Designer Janine Sunday chooses a dressy-casual theme for the cast – Natascia Diaz, Bobby Smith, Sam Ludwig, and Bayla Whitten. Each cast member has a number of solo songs, as well as duets and full ensemble numbers.They cover a large emotional scale, from chilling and somber themes to playful numbers. Each song is its own story, from the hopeful, optimistic “Madeleine,” sung by Sam Ludwig, about a young man stood up by his date, to the passionate number “The Bulls,” sung by Natascia Diaz, a song about the sport of bullfighting, sung from the viewpoint of its victims.

Bobby Smith, Sam Ludwig, Bayla Whitten, and Natascia Diaz. Photo by Christopher Banks.

Choreographer Matthew Gardiner keeps things on the humorous, playful side for the most part, and the ensemble has an easy chemistry and work well off of each other’s movements, whish is best shown in the number “Brussels.” Sam’s sarcastic “Funeral Tango” was among my favorites, as well as Natascia’s chilling “My Death,” Bobby’s regretful “Fanette,” and Bayla’s theatrical “Timid Frieda.”

Each cast member is a powerhouse of talent – but make no mistake, this show belongs to Natascia Diaz. Her piercing stare and commanding presence is mystifying (truly, I think the building could have been burning down around me during one of her songs and I would not have noticed). The sad, beautiful rendition of “Old Folks” was a particularly moving moment, as well as the solemn “My Childhood,” and the heartbreaking “Ne me quitte pas.” Natascia is able to enchant and move an audience in a way I’ve never quite seen before.

Jacques Brel.

As someone who, admittedly, was not familiar with Jacques Brel’s work before experiencing this show, I enjoyed myself immensely. The numbers were both moving and fun, and the cast was a joy to watch. I am very glad that I was able to experience this production, and I strongly urge you to do the same.

Ne manquez pas cette merveilleuse production.

Running Time: Approximately two hours, including one 15-minute intermission.

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris plays through October 21, 2012 at MetroStage – 1201 North Royal Street, in Alexandria, VA. Purchase tickets by calling 1-800-494-8497, or order them online.


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