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Sassy, sultry lyrics testament to human condition

by Shannon Stollenmaier, News editor


“Ah, I can see them now. Clutching a handkerchief. And blowing me a kiss.” These lyrics are sung from a dead man’s perspective. It’s a strange yet thought-provoking perspective that makes you wonder, what people will think of you when you’re six feet under.

The song, entitled “Funeral Tango,” was written by Jacques Brel, a Belgian songwriter.This and many other Brel songs were performed by a six-person cast in Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. The musical review, directed by Joyce Maltby, was performed at HPU’s Theater from Mar. 12 through Apr. 11.

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With only a couple of tables and chairs, the stage was set simply as a street cafe. With the stage bare, the audience, not wowed by stage design, could focus without distraction on the power of Brel’s lyrics.

The cast wore only two sets of costumes that proved extremely versatile and fit a number of scenes portrayed in the songs. The women’s costumes made a seamless on-stage transition from vibrant Spanish dress worn during a song, entitled “The Bull,” to shoulder shawls worn in the next song, entitled, “Old Folks.”

The lighting was subtle, and unless the song required more than one singer, the light focused on the lone vocalist. When Lina Doo sang “Marieke,” all the cast members were on stage gazing at her just like the audience, but Doo was singled out by the spotlight that, like the viewer’s passion, followed her.

The cast sang 21 of Brel’s songs ranging in topic from the anguish of a love affair to the crudeness of war, from the thrill of a bull fight to the child-like innocence of a carrousel. While each song told a different story, they all expressed either humor or pathos, as well as profound truths about the human condition.

Doo, Melissa Dylan, and Rebecca Maltby beautifully combined their voices in a song about old folks and death that eventually summons everyone. “The old folks move no more. Their world’s become too small. Their bodies feel like lead.”

Dylan and Maltby accompanied Michael Burns and Kevin Yamada in “Madeleine,” an upbeat and comical song about a naïve young man who waits in the pouring rain, hours on-end, for his Madeleine. “I’ve been soaked since half past ten. Madeleine is not here yet …. Madeleine’s my shining sea. She’s America to me ....”

Dennis Proulx sang the dimmer, more shocking of Brel’s songs and did so with incredible passion. “I followed a naked body. A naked body followed me. Next. Next. I was still a kid when my innocence was lost in a mobile army whorehouse ....” This song, entitled “Next,” demonstrates the sickness of war as a mobile brothel traveled among army companies.

The production concluded with the entire cast singing “If We Only Have Love,” a song which exalts the cure to war — love. “If we only have love, we can melt all the guns. And then give the new world to our daughters and sons ....”

Brel’s lyrics are honest, sassy, and sultry. They cause internal reflection and lead to the conclusion that life is beautiful and ugly, complex and simple, funny and dark, pleasurable and painful. They’ll leave you unseated and uncomfortable, yet at peace, knowing that life’s lessons about love and pain are a part of everyone’s story.


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