Jacques Brel is Alive and Well & Living in Paris!

In a match made in heaven, the Theatre Café, in the atrium of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, has opened the quintessential musical review Jacques Brel is Alive and Well & Living in Paris!

The production, containing 24 of the French songwriter's most poignant pieces, marks the return of cabaret theatre to the café after an absence of twenty years, and fills a void in the downtown arts complex's entertainment choices, mixing consummate musical storytelling with a classy menu.

Brel's music and lyrics reflect his passion for life and travel, and contributed to the birth of a new genre of troubadours on both sides of the Atlantic following the devastation of World War Two. In the midst of Brel's successful European recording career, Americans Eric Blau and Mort Shuman conceived this production, which opened in New York in 1967 and in London the following year.

Photo of Paul Page, Erica Sarzin-Borrillo, Paul Curran, and Karen LaMoureaux
(L to R) Paul Page, Erica Sarzin-Borrillo,
Paul Curran, and Karen LaMoureaux
Photo: Theatre Café
Featuring four experienced local musical theatre standouts, this new production, directed by Don Berlin, delivers all the poignancy, wit, and style intrinsic to the material.

After setting the tone with the upbeat, whirlwind "Marathon" ("Join us now, we're on a marathon / Dancing, dancing through the nights and days"), the members of the company each bring alive a series of Brel's portraits—of people he's known, places he's been, and the emotions and ideas that accompanied these experiences.

Paul Curran begins with an expressive, heartfelt rendition of "Bachelor's Dance," a vision of connubial bliss, followed later by "Matilda," expressing both the ecstasy and trepidation of love, and capped with "Fanette," a reminiscence of love ("But when the waves are still I still can hear it yet / I hear a little song, I hear Fanette")—highlighting just one of the many thematic expressions woven throughout Brel's work.

Paul Page draws from another thread, opening with the introspective anthem, "Alone," a persuasive, yet disillusioned mix of political and existential observations, themes which are later expanded in "Statue" (where Page, frozen in a gallant pose, scorns those who come to observe him, while he bitterly reflects on war and his own hypocrisy), and "The Bulls" (who "dream of some hell where men and worn out matadors still burn").

Brel's legendary tristesse is rendered in a series of heart-wrenching songs by Erica Sarzin-Borrillo, beginning with the airy yet complex "I Loved" (alternately romantic and ironic), then encompassing the unconditional love of the fully orchestrated "My Death," and culminating in the nostalgic "Old Folks," a tale of a life-long love in its dotage.

The bright soprano of Karen LaMoureaux resonates with a couple of youthful portraits, including "Timid Frieda" (a coming of age in an indifferent world), and "No Love You're Not Alone" (a fleeting, sweet reassurance), coupled with sketches of Brel's hometown, the breezy, smart "Brussels" (a vaudevillian ditty) and the plaintive "Amsterdam" (the city in all its grit and filth).

The orchestra—musical director Richard Shore on piano, Wendy Wheaton on keyboards, and Kurt Ochsner, percussion—provides sophisticated dynamics for the evocative solos, and well-matched voices and pleasing harmonies.

Asking only that we take a few moments to disengage from the relentless workaday world and share our love, Brel indeed remains alive and well through this well-crafted production.

The Theatre Café's presentation of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well & Living in Paris! is in an open-ended run. 303-623-7733.

Bob Bows


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