Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris: The show brings to life the songs of a legendary 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. The 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, makes 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. Laura Turnbull shows Brel's wide-eyed fascination with the passing of time. (Through September 5 at Palm Beach Dramaworks, 322 Banyan Ave., West Palm Beach, 561-514-4042.)
Heaven Help Us! The Swingin' New Rat Pack Musical: This toe-tapping world premiere about God sending the Rat Pack back to Vegas to help a suicidal lounge owner is stylishly presented, with a terrific cast belting out some great tunes -- some 29 hits pop up in the show, ranging from brief refrains to full-blown song-and-dance numbers. Co-creator Ray Roderick's snappy direction and choreography and a fine on-stage jazz combo also sparkle. But the performance and production strengths only emphasize the weaknesses of the decidedly half-baked script: Heaven's creative team needs to get back in the kitchen. (Through September 5 at Florida Stage, Plaza Del Mar, 262 S. Ocean Blvd., Manalapan, 561-585-3433 or 800-514-3837.)
The Shakespeare Project: King Lear, A Midsummer Night's Dream: The New Theatre's annual Shakespeare fest is played in true repertory, with Lear, the Bard's greatest tragedy, alternating nightly with Dream, that popular comedy of lunacy, love, and poetry. Director Rafael de Acha and his superior design team deliver two visually striking productions. But while the journeyman acting company is competent, few individual performances soar. Lear is given a formal, stark staging that's powerful if not emotionally stirring. Dream has an interesting East Indian look with the battling faerie king and queen -- Oberon and Titania -- presented as dancing dervishes, but the show's comic antics are more amusing than flat-out funny. (Through August 22 at the New Theatre, 4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables, 305-443-5909.)
The Water Coolers: Looking for a little something to while away a hot summer night? This refreshing, fast-paced musical revue about life in the corporate world is graced with an exceptionally gifted cast and stylish, inventive staging from Playhouse director David Arisco and choreographer Barbara Flaten. Cole Porter it's not -- the jokes and the music are rather bland -- but the show's upbeat charm and five terrific performers make for sparkling entertainment that goes down as cool and easy as a summer cocktail. (Through September 5 at the Actors Playhouse at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, 305-444-9293.)
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