Review: Brel: The Words and Music of Jacques Brel

GIVING HIS ALL: Jon Toogood puts sexual passion and tension into his rendition of Next.
GIVING HIS ALL: Jon Toogood puts sexual passion and tension into his rendition of Next.

Brel: The Words and Music of Jacques Brel, Silo Theatre (New Zealand)

James Cabaret, till March 2

The intimate and cabaret- like atmosphere of James Cabaret is an ideal venue for Silos Theatre's exhilarating and vibrant show Brel: The Words and Music of Jacques Brel.

On a stage littered with 1960s' furniture and a sultry picture of the man himself dragging on a cigarette at the back of the stage, four musicians and four singers pump out the songs and music of the most influential European musicians of the 1960s.

Brel was a Belgian singer- songwriter who lived from 1929 to 1978 who wrote songs about death, unrequited love, lost souls, sex, with an incredible amount of passion and emotional energy.

The melodies of Brel's songs have a style of their own, basic and raw, often repetitious and hypnotic with increasing tempos but always with telling lyrics.

In this production, director Michael Hurst and musical director Leon Radojkovic have moved away from many of the traditional renditions of Brel's songs. And while maintaining the passion in many of the songs, some appear to have been smoothed out and sanitised, losing the raw edge so synonymous with Brel's style. Nevertheless, all four singers equip themselves well and each has a standout moment - some more than one.

Jon Toogood, lead singer of the band Shihad, brings the first half to a fitting climax with Amsterdam, while his Next is full of sexual passion and tension.

Tama Waipara does well with the more sensitive numbers such as Jackie and Fanette.

But it is the women who shine in this show, Jennifer Ward-Lealand bringing a raw emotional energy to all her songs, in particular Marieke and Ne Me Quitte Pas.

Julia Deans from the band Fur Patrol hits all the right notes with each song and imbues each with a combination of emotional pain and joy in well known numbers such as Timid Frieda. And Brel's Carousel is given a excellent rendition with Deans leading and the rest of the singers supporting.

Although the show is a seamless string of 20 or so of Brel's songs, the way Hurst and his team have put them together provides a great evening's musical entertainment for both followers of Brel's music and those who just like listening to good music.

The Dominion Post