Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Centre, Sun 18 Jun.
Brel: “The supreme madness is to see life as it is and not as it should be.”
Ali McGregor’s introduction told that the English speaking world didn’t really discover the music of Jacques Brel until he was featured in a Broadway musical in 1968. He was huge in his native Europe and it was a privilege to be treated to a potted history of his work by this star studded line-up. Any number of YouTube videos show what a powerful and gripping performer Brel was, and the assembled artists for this show did a fine job of interpreting his material.
McGregor got the show off to a flying start with Carousel, a song from the Broadway musical, and had us all holding our breath as the carousel that is life threatened to spiral out of control – a stunning opener. Dusty Limits stamped his own inimitable style on Jackie, another hit from the musical, and Michaela Berger was impressive and totally at home singing her powerful version of Les Bourgeois in French. Former Adelaide Cabaret Festival performer Johanna Allen, offered an exquisite duet with musical director and pianist Charly Zastrau in deft and delicate touch – the highlight of the evening for me. Kim David Smith, fresh from his Morpheum Kabarett show, sang the mournful and poetic Les Vieux (The Old People) supported by a clever band arrangement that echoed the relentless passing of time.
Cabaret superstar Meow Meow brought a welcome change of pace and spades of humour and managed to turn Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don’t Leave Me), a gut-wrenching emotional tune in its original Brel form, in to acceptable farce with the help of a few lucky audience members!
Cabaret Festival co-Artistic Director Eddie Perfect got as close as anyone was going to get to portraying the intensity that characterised Brel’s live performances in a gritty rendition of Amsterdam. A fine effort.
Brel was one of a kind. His live performances were riveting and built on exploiting the drama of his narratives. It’s a tall order to expect the climactic intensity of Brel’s performances, and if anything the songs were a little too sweetened, but this varied and engaging show paid fitting homage to ‘The Immortal Troubadour’.