Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living on Liberty Avenue
By Mara E. Nadolski, Pittsburgh Stage Magazine
On Saturday night PICT Classic Theatre opened the second and final installment of their Downtown Series with Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. Despite the title, Brel passed away in 1978 but this musical revue carries on his legacy. I will admit that I had no idea who Jacques Brel was when I heard PICT’s season announcement. Maybe that’s because I live under a rock or maybe I’m just a product of my generation or maybe a little bit of both but I had a grand time at the Trust Arts Education Center’s intimate Peirce Studio. Since this a musical revue there is not much plot to speak of but the amount of talent utilized on stage left me awestruck.
Daina Michelle Griffith returns to the stage for her fifth season at PICT. Griffith has such a distinct voice, smooth and comforting while singing the more somber songs but that same voice will slap you in the face when she lays into a power ballad. She just kills it in “My Death”. This song really highlighted both sides of her voice while playing to the charming Justin Lonesome. Their chemistry in this sad yet hopeful number is just so sweetly genuine it’s refreshing.
Speaking of Justin Lonesome, we recently saw him in PICT’s last show, For the Tree to Drop! Lonesome demonstrates a great amount of control of his voice and hits high notes like it’s nothing. “Bachelor’s Dance” was one of my favorite numbers of Lonesome’s. He bounced back and forth to both of his costar ladies telling them his hopes and dreams of his future wife. He’d get giddy, they’d reject him and he would recover with ease and so much power in his voice. He has yet to disappoint me with a performance and I truly hope the streak continues.
Jonathan Visser also returns to PICT for a fifth season. Every time Visser had a solo number he commanded that stage. It might partially be because he was taller than his fellow costars but I always found myself focusing on him. He portrayed a wide range of emotions throughout the entire show; he was just precious being frantic, panicked and excited in “Mathilde”. He would jump from being excited his dear love Mathilde had arrived and then be [I8] terrified that she’d break his heart again. You were happy and worried about him at the same time. He showed some pretty wonderful versatility going from this to the tough and gritty “Amsterdam”.
And finally, to round out the four-person cast, making her PICT debut was Caroline Nicolian. She delivered her songs cute and flirty where appropriate and then really stepped up to the plate in more intense songs like “Timid Frieda” and especially “Marieke” which was the highlight of her performances that evening. Jacques Brel specifically wanted any cover of this song to keep the original Dutch lyrics. Not only did Nicolian deliver emotionally but her vocals were so spot on I nearly cried.
Because there were no spoken lines inflection and timing were everything. Things got goofy and silly with songs like “The Middle Class” and “Carousel”. The actors brought us back down to earth with “The Desperate Ones” and really got us going with the opening number “Brussels”. Group numbers always brought us back to square one; they get you ready for another emotional roller coaster of songs. There were a few points in the show that got a little stale (simply because there was no movement of stage at points) but I still found myself wondering how those 80 minutes went so quickly by the time it was over; I wanted to hear more. The four piece band accompanying in the back was spectacular. Never once did they over-power the singers, which can be difficult in such a small space with so few actors.
So if you’re looking to see a fun, fast-paced show Jacque Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris is a great production to see. Apparently, the rest of Pittsburgh thinks the same so PICT has extended the run May 14th through the 17th and those performances will be held in the Henry Heymann Theatre in Oakland.
Special thanks to PICT Classic Theatre for complimentary press tickets. Tickets and more information can be found here.