Jacques Brel Returns, the long-running evening of songs by the beloved Belgian songwriter and chanteur, continues to romance audiences by adding two special February shows at The Triad, Wednesday the 22nd at 7pm and Valentine’s Day at 9pm.
Now, before you think it’s going to be a night of chocolates and kisses and rose petals, I use the term romance in the old fashioned sense of “mysterious and out of the ordinary”; Brel’s songs create an otherworldly atmosphere populated by sons lost to war and passionate hearts broken. Even when translated from the original French and Dutch into English, there is something foreign and unknowable about these miniature swirling playlets.
This production, with its rotating cast of Broadway regulars and special guests, is certainly no frills: just a piano and a few props. While a number of songs remain stubbornly opaque to my American ear, when the gallic passion builds and the singers give in to the heightened quality of the emotion, it’s hard not to be swept away to a land where war buddies cry in their tankards and people die for love. The performers are all able interpreters of the difficult material; particularly good at the show I saw were Arlo Hill, with the face of a WWI doughboy and the sound of a romantic lead, and Tamra Hayden, brooding and big voiced as she brazenly pushes the tremulous melodrama up to the breaking point (and at times deliciously spilling over).
Here’s video of Ms. Hayden singing “Marieke” during a 2011 performance of Jacques Brel Returns…