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Theater: A Jacques Brel Revue: Songs of Love and War
by Rick Reed

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Pictured A Jacques Brel Revue: Songs of Love and War.

Director: Fred Anzevino

( musical direction by Michael Miller )

At: Theo Ubique at No Exit, 6970 N. Glenwood

Phone: ( 773 ) 743-3355; $20

Runs through: Open run

Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Rogers Park? Yes, it's true: the master of Parisian pop, the chronicler of love and despair with accordion accompaniment has taken his act and moved it stateside, to the tiny, yet charming, confines of the No Exit Café ( and one wonders what Sartre would have to say about that? ) . But No Exit Café ( never mind its existentialist ties … in this case hell is definitely not other people, at least not this ensemble ) is the perfect venue for this funny, heart-rending, and lyrical two hours that boast nearly thirty of the Parisian crooner's greatest hits, many originally performed, we can imagine, in venues such as this one.

Fred Anzevino and Michael Miller again team up ( after last season's wonderful staging of Spoon River Anthology at the same venue ) to demonstrate that when showcasing poetry and music, less is more. For the most part, the staging here is simple, and it's at its best when music and emotion take center stage, such as the wonderfully argumentative duet, 'Litany for a Return' ( performed by the two most gifted and natural members of this ensemble of five, Danielle Brothers and David Heimann ) or the plaintive 'Don't Leave Me,' in which Brothers doesn't allow a dry eye in the house, including her own. These two pieces work because there is an honest match between music and emotion. And for the most part, this marriage works because the performers realize that simplicity is the key. The two youngest members of the ensemble ( I assume ) are Amanda Hartley and Jeremy Trager; while both of these performers are of fine voice, they still need to loosen up a bit on stage and let some honesty peek through. Both of them look too practiced, their smiles too perfect … one never forgets that they're performing.

This revue is an enjoyable outing and will not disappoint fans of Brel's oeuvre. The only problem for me was when things got a little too bogged down into trying to dramatize the song ( with costumes, movement, and mugging ) . No Exit is too small a space to tolerate much embroidery, since every gesture and every expression gets magnified when the performers are literally only a few feet away. Essentially, this is a cabaret show, and the only parts that are weak here are when the creators didn't trust in the emotion enough to simply allow it to come through the music.

But that's really a minor quibble: one can't fault artists for being too ambitious in their efforts. You like Jacques Brel? You want to see his music faithfully and lovingly performed? Then you don't want to miss this show.

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