New York City Theater
"Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris"
Zipper Theatre, Manhattan
Jacques Brel is alive and well and living, not in Paris, but on 37th Street in Manhattan. A delightful revival of the beloved show is now charming audiences off-Broadway. This particular “Jacques Brel” is all of a package, with the theater itself an integral part of the mood and setting. The Zipper Theatre, which houses the show, may well have been a warehouse or factory or garage in an earlier incarnation. In any event, its open space, with peeling walls and beams, creates a properly tacky setting. The audience sits on old auto seats which apparently have been culled from used car lots or the like. As to stage furniture and props, it would seem that some one had raided a thrift shop or the Salvation Army. In all, there is a sense of intimacy and informality—even, shall we say, of slumming--European in feeling. This could very well be an underground Parisian café where unsavory characters gather for drink and amusement.
But, atmosphere notwithstanding, this is no casual effort. Every move, every note, of the four performers, is superbly orchestrated, thanks to director Gordon Greenberg and choreographer Mark Dendy. Robert Cuccioli, Rodney Hicks, Natascia Diaz and Gay Marshall are best in ensemble, never faltering, even when one is the featured singer, with the others serving as back-ups. And each number slips smoothly into the next, as the players slide furniture about and create a new scene. As the songs string out and the show unfolds, the themes of embitterment, longing, despair, hope are spelled out. “If We Only Have Love,” which opens and closes the two-hour song, epitomizes the Jacques Brel philosophy.
Robert Cuccioli, best-known of the quartet, combines his acting skills with his strong voice is such dramatic solo numbers as “Jackie” and “Amsterdam.” And Natascia Diaz shines in such gentle tunes as “Timid Freida” and “Old Folks.” Gay Marshal epitomizes the French mood, evoking Edith Piaf, in such numbers as “Ne Me Quitte Pas” and “Carousel.” And Rodney becomes every dead soldier in a haunting piece, “The Statue.”
Eric Svejcar provides musical direction and an occasional stint within the show. But the three-piece band too often drowns out the singers, thus losing Brel’s wonderful lyrics. Nevertheless, this is a worthy revival, and one deserving of a long off-Broadway run.
-- Irene Backalenick
May 3, 2006