Stagebeat

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris brings to life the songs of this legendary French songwriter, singer, actor, and filmmaker, whose work spanned the 1950s and '60s. Although Dutch-born, Brel's career was born in Paris, and he wrote in English, French, and Dutch. This tribute begins with French-born Tangi Colombel's introduction in his native tongue. Then he and three other actors paint the canvas of Brel's life through his song, with on-stage piano accompaniment. This quartet illustrates Brel's range, humanity, depth, and realism in a way that even those unfamiliar with his work can grasp. Together, their synchronized choreography, complete with a few do-si-dos and jazz hands, make the piece come alive, but their perfect harmonies bring out the mood. The shadowy set adds a gritty undertone. The actors make each piece their own with sometimes melancholy, other times gut-wrenching emotion. Colombel is naturally comedic and romantic, throwing his body into the mood; his handsome, chiseled face and French accent bring to life the poetry of Brel's words. Lisa Manuli's expressive face and voice bring out Brel's heart in every piece. Avi Hoffman brings out Brel's humanity, hitting the mark again and again, whether pulling up a stool and sharing his heart's wounds, stumbling like a sailor, swooning over love, or recalling the nightmares of a regrettable youth. The glint in his eye and his knowing smile are as familiar as an old friend. Laura Turnbull shows Brel's wide-eyed fascination with the passing of time. By the end, Turnbull has warmed to her pieces. "Carousel's" turn, from happy life to frantic paranoia, perhaps shows Brel's own mindset and "If We Only Have Love" his wish for generations to come. (Through September 5 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 322 Banyan Ave., West Palm Beach, 561-514-4042.) -- Rachel Galvin

 
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