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Jacques Brel Returns to New York at The Zipper Theatre

- Backstage with the Playwrights

The Zipper Theatre
336 West 37th Street
Dan Whitten, Bob and Rhonda Silver, Ken Grossman
in association with Tiger Theatricals

Jacques Brel
Is Alive and Well
And Living in Paris

Production Conception, English Lyrics
And Additional Material by
Eric Blau and Mort Shuman

Based on Jacques Brelís Lyrics and Commentary
Music by Jacques Brel
(See Jacques Brelís Bio)

Robert Cuccioli, Rodney Hicks, Gay Marshall
And Jayne Paterson (Substituting for Natascia Diaz

Directed by Gordon Greenberg
Set Design: Robert Bissinger
Costume Design: Mattie Ulrich
Lighting Design: Jeff Croiter
Sound Design: Peter Fitzgerald
Production Manager: Aurora Productions
Casting: Cindi Rush Casting
Production Stage Manager: Sara Jaramillo
Creative Consultant: Howard Bateman
Associate Producer: Kathleen Brochin
Press: OPR/Origlio Public Relations
General Manager: Richards/Climan, Inc.
Music Director: Eric Svejcar
Choreographer: Mark Dendy
Music Director/Piano/Accordion/Guitar: Eric Svejcar
Bass: Steve Gilewski
Percussion: Brad Carbone

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 2, 2006

As a lifelong fan of Jacques Brelís music and lyrics, all possessed with passion for life and pathos for loss, I was a tough fan to please at todayís matinee, on a brilliantly sunny April afternoon in a dramatically dark theatre, which used to be a zipper factory and is replete with machine-like fixtures and low lighting effects. This intimately close theatrical space, with multi-leveled seating, was just Left-Bank enough to evoke the four-year Village Gate production, staged a lifetime ago. Belgian-born Jacques Brel released his first 78 record in 1953, with an accordion band and two songs. In Paris, he subsequently achieved fame with Quand on a que líamour (If we only have love). Soon Sinatra, Kingston Trio, and Ray Charles among others, were singing Brelís songs in the U.S., and Brel recorded until 1977, a release that sold over two million copies. He retired to and died in the Marquesas Islands, inspired by Gauginís tropical paradise. (Program Notes).

The four cast singers today, Gay Marshall, Robert Cuccioli, Rodney Hicks, and Jayne Paterson (filling on for Natascia Diaz), sang non-stop, in solos, duos, and ensembles with props, such as a hat, a lounge, a military ornament, and with band accompaniment, or just piano, guitar, or accordion. The performer with the accent and language skills was Gay Marshall, who sang Ne Me Quitte Pas (Do not leave me) in the original French with native perfection. For this Francophile critic, I had hoped for more songs in French with linguistically native singers, but we did get an opening rendition of Le Diable («a Va), also sung by Gay Marshall, a Piaf-built waif of a performer, but with taut muscularity. Yet, the motif and mood and moment were so European in genre, one could almost imagine the original French lyrics within the English translations.

Ms. Marshallís signature song, mentioned above, was mesmerizing and magical. Her extensive years in Paris have certainly cultivated her pronounced French affect. Robert Cuccioliís moment occurred with Amsterdam, and he seemed to be Brel, himself, in a variety of natural 1960ís clothing and costumes. Rodney Hicks was especially strong in the military works, such as Next. His style and voice were contemporary and punctuated, but that persuasive style served to reinforce the angry, anti-war themes. Jayne Paterson was especially elegant, soft but strong in vocal presence, and her renditions of Old Folks and Youíre Not Alone, a duo with Rodney, were quite impressive. Where Mr. Cuccioli and Mr. Hicks were dramatic and driven, Ms. Marshall and Ms. Paterson were sensual and scintillating.

The anti-war (Vietnam) motif resonated throughout this revival, all too poignant these days, with one warís madness merging into the otherís sadness, as songs of death and denial rang true to the audience. Brelís first hit, If Only We Have Love, was presented early by Music Director, Eric Svejcar, who performed today on piano, guitar, and very French accordion. The last two songs, Carousel (Ms. Marshall) and a full cast reprise of If Only We Have Love, brought down the house. The first is one of my favorites and one of Brelís most renowned, sending the performer and listener into a whirling dervish of lifeís flashbacks, and the second highlighted Ms. Marshall in her blazing spotlight of soaring, sensational sound.

I would love to see this production staged once more, with more of Brelís French originals, sung by Ms. Marshall and three French or Belgian singers, hopefully with less electronic amplification (the mikes on the piano and singers were turned to an extraordinary pitch, in this intimate setting, occasionally distorting the lyrics). However, Eric Blau and Mort Shuman have created a much-needed revival of a much-loved production. After almost forty years, since the original Greenwich Village show, Jacques Brel is alive and living on West 37th Street. Kudos to Eric Blau and Mort Shuman, for bringing this exquisite music back to us, with warmth and power, and kudos to Director, Gordon Greenberg, for keeping the pace both fast and furious, languid and lovely. Kudos to Ms. Marshall, Mr. Cuccioli, Mr. Hicks, and Ms. Paterson for authentic interpretations of this timeless music. And, kudos to Jacques Brel for creating lyrics and melodies that activate the mind and nourish the soul.

Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg

Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg

Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg

Photo courtesy of Carol Rosegg

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at