note: entire contents copyright 2003 by Carl A. Rossi
Geoffrey P. Burns
Piano … Todd Gordon
Percussion … Scott Nason
Bass … Mike Leggio
The Stuart Street Playhouse/2nd Stage is currently housing JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE & WELL & LIVING IN PARIS, based on Scott Edmiston’s acclaimed production which enjoyed two engagements last summer at the Gloucester Stage Company; this 1968 celebration of Mr. Brel’s French-into-English songs about love and life has held up very well, indeed --- it has survived Mr. Brel himself, who died in 1978. Five producers --- Jerome Rosenfeld, Frank Sugrue, Joan Fredricks, Tim Montgomery and Rita A. Fucillo --- acquired the performing rights and have set up shop in the former 57 Restaurant where they would like this BREL to run forever, making it a Boston institution alongside SHEAR MADNESS and BLUE MAN GROUP. Geoffrey P. Burns, Kent French, Merle Perkins and Kristen Sergeant are currently performing the BREL songs until the original Gloucester cast --- Leigh Barrett, Caroline deLima, Drew Poling and Eric Rubbe --- return from prior commitments.
You can’t go wrong with either cast; they make for some interesting contrasts. Eric Rubbe is at his best in staccato phrasing (his dry voice flattens whenever he tries to soar); Geoffrey P. Burns is more comical and has a voice with plenty of juice, if not subtlety. Caroline deLima is affecting despite being the designated “hot” one for the evening; Kristen Sergeant’s natural lusciousness --- all strawberry taffy --- frees her to concentrate on her songs though she goes off pitch when switching from operetta charm to anthem belt, i.e., “My Death”. Drew Poling has a rousing baritone with lungpower to spare: even his shouts, whispers and declamation come out as well-rounded melody (BREL as oratorio); Kent French’s voice is tighter, firmer and “of the people” (the trim, handsome Mr. French is also more convincing as a waterfront tough). Leigh Barrett’s natural high spirits make her sad songs even more memorable: when a dark cloud passes over the sun, how we long for it to smile on us again! Merle Perkins is more somber, wary; bruised by Life --- her upper register rings hollow; she is better in mid-range and when blending with the ensembles. Ms. Barrett stops the show by leading the others through the vertiginous “Carousel”, but her most treasured moment is the haunting “Marieke”; Ms. Sergeant is the current fire-catcher with her soft, lovely rendition of “Old Folks”.
The 57 Restaurant is the perfect cozy setting for JACQUES BREL, reinforcing what is by nature a cabaret act. May this production truly run forever and become an ever-changing showcase for Boston-based talent; established singers and newcomers, alike.