The Songs of Jacques Brel

February/March 2008

Off the Wall Theatre proudly started out the New Year with one of the most beloved musical revues ever created. “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” is an intimate, thrilling musical journey through the songs of one of the world’s greatest musical poets. Jacques Brel was actually Belgian, but spent most of his career writing and performing in Paris. His cabaret performances are legendary, achieving in Europe the same status as Judy Garland’s Carnegie Hall Concert.

Off the Wall Theatre was delighted to present this popular revue, featuring a number of songs seldom heard by Milwaukee Theatre goers as well as many Brel favorites. .

Director Dale Gutzman has done the show twice before, first for the Skylight Theatre, and then again for his own company. This time, he took the songs back to Brel himself. The entire show was presented as a French Cabaret performance. Rare film clips of Brel himself performing peppered the evening, and the singerswere backed by a musical combo that will include an accordian.

“Popular as they are, so many of Brel’s songs in America are very different from the originals. The entire message of many of the songs has been changed. Some of the songs in the show that seem sad, are in reality quite funny in a very dark humor sort of way. Brel had a very good sense of ironic comedy, which doesn’t usually come across in the show. His observations on life are wry, and this is an element often missing from American productions.”

Those who love the show, werer delighted to see it in a new perspective. For those seeing it for the first time, Off The Wall's production was thrilling.  Some of the adjectives used over the years to describe the show have been “searing,” “unforgettable,” “heartbreaking,” “insanely comic and yet oh too true.”  And “Thrilling.” When Gutzman last did the show, Milwaukee Sentinel critic Jay Joslyn,  said the production was like “fine wine.”

This time around, Gutzman assembled a dream cast, some of whom have done the show several times. David Flores, and Marilyn White were both in previous Gutzman versions of the show. Robert Hirsch, is an accomplished musical performer with Off the Wall Theatre, and Mary De Battista while doing her first show with Off the Wall, is a well known Milwaukee talent, especially gifted at lyric interpretation. Joining them was a recent addition to the Off the Wall Family, Mr. Ben George, who has spent the past few years living in Brussels, and will be doing some of the songs in the original French. Mr. George recently played Claudius in Gutzman’s production of Hamlet.

Music Director Chris Wszalek put together a combo, which went back to Brel’s original orchestrations in some cases and lifted them off of CDs to recreate a true French Cabaret feeling.