‘Jacques Brel’ a thoroughly entertaining revival


Jacques Brel, a Belgian born singer-songwriter who spent most of his life in Paris, passed away in 1978. But the cabaret-style show he created in 1966, “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” remains a popular international musical with a growing fan base.

North Coast Repertory Theatre’s production opened last weekend and runs through Oct. 5.

Brel was a troubadour whose songs reflected his outlook on life. One might be sad, a different one merry and another, a poetic lyric about life’s difficulties. “Jacques Brel,” the musical, features four singers and three band members who run through 27 of Brel’s songs. Originally written in French, the English versions of Brel’s songs were created by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman for the long-running show.

Songs titles such as “My Death” or “Old Folks” will probably never be found in a top 40 list, but are truly thought-provoking when presented by singers as engaging as these cast members. Courtney Corey, Jenn Grinels, Robert Grossman and Jason Maddy do more in this show than sing. They entertain.

Corey, who has performed in many shows including “Wicked” and “Rent,” sings a wide range of songs. Reacting to Grossman’s soulful outpouring of “Jackie,” she plunks a flower shop full of promises into “No Love You’re Not Alone.” Yet further into the show her sweet giggles and beautiful voice charms in “Carousel.”

Grossman, an actor who appeared in “The Chosen” and “Tuesdays with Morrie,” is an urban folksinger and recording artist. He’s also great with faces. His Boris Karloff stare can be quite intimidating in a serious song such as “Amsterdam,” but he’s playful and light-hearted when joining Maddy in the laughable “Girls and Dogs.”

The tall and lanky Maddy moves around the intimate stage like a sprinter. He’s more enjoyable in his humorous songs but certainly creates intrigue as a matador who pronounces “the bulls are bored” in “The Bulls.”

Grinels, her long red hair framing her face, and her guitar are a precise duo. With roles in “Honky Tonk” and “Beehive” and just returnd from a 10-month road trip with her guitar, her talents shine. It’s Grinels first note in the opening song of “Ca Va” that mesmerizes the theater audience into absolute silence. Like Parisian singer Edith Piaf, Grinels pours out the French ballad as if her life hangs on every word.

The set makes easy work for the singers as they switch gears with the different songs. On the walls are props to be used in the songs, including everything from a gun to top hats. Band members Steven Withers (piano), Tom Versen (percussion) and Fred Ubaldo Jr. (bass) have their work cut out for them in the wide range of numbers, but they never waiver in keeping up with the changing tempos.

The competent direction by David Ellenstein, who commented this was one of his favorite shows, is evident in “Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” from beginning to end.

Taking on the task of conveying someone else’s vision of a particular song is a daunting challenge. Each singer in this show adds his or her own artistic brush stroke - be it a mark of squandered youth, a melancholy rhyme of romance or reflections of a tortured soul - to paint a vivid portrait of Brel’s own musings.

‘Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris’

  • Now through Oct. 5
  • North Coast Repertory Theatre
  • 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach
  • Tickets or info at (858) 481-1055 or