Saturday, Jan. 29, 2011

Jacques Brel At The Skylight

Opening Night With The Skylight Opera Theatre’s JACQUES BREL

By Russ Bickerstaff
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During intermission a woman wearing a Skylight Opera staff pin passed by. I overheard her saying something about the number of reviewers in attendance . . . excitedly adding that the audience was “on.” It was opening night for the Skylight Opera Theatre’s production of Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris.

The audience was electric—immensely responsive to a show—not only applauding after every song, but also whistling and cheering. I’ve rarely felt that kind of energy from an audience. More often than not, I feel a kind of disconnect when I’m part of an audience that’s as enthusiastic as last night’s opening night crowd for the Skylight’s Jacques Brel. This show, though . . . the Skylight’s production of Jaques Brel is absurdly beautiful in places.

Director Ray Jivoff and Music Director Richard Carsey have brought together an impenetrably impressive production that is achingly well-executed on nearly every level. It’s a musical revue—no specific storyline here, but Brel’s songs are all individual stories in their own right. Jivoff and Carsey stage them in a way that feels like a series of musical shorts. Go to see one show and you’r actually seeing a program of just over two dozen individual stories. The backdrop for the parade of stories is a massive prop warehouse beautifully rendered by scenic designer Keith Pitts. The set is draped in stunningly dramatic light by Jason Fassl. 

Though they're very beautiful, the press pics provided on CD don’t do justice to the full experience of going to the show, but here’s a quick look at the cast with some idea of just how good this production looks:

P.J. Baccari

A new face with a remarkably resonant voice. Makes a memorable dramatic turn as a man haunted by the phantoms of sex and commerce in Next.


Liz Baltes

A woman with an impeccable French accent in song, Baltes has been with the Skylight for a long time. The production moves in many directions through many different moods. A couple of Baltes’ solos ground the production with a very European feel.

 

Alison Mary Forbes

Director Ray Jivoff first worked with Forbes in a First Stage production when she was 12. I don’t remember her work quite that far back, but I’ve seen her appear memorably on smaller stages as a ghost, a Peanuts character, a witch, a slightly psychotic librarian and, on at least one occasion, an employee at the Skylight Bar & Bistro, if I’m not mistaken. Here she plays both to her comic talents (most notably as the title character in Timid Frieda) and deeper, more dramatic musical moods. She’s seen above playing the devil.


Steve Koehler 

He’s been seen in a number of local shows over the years, (many may remember him from Guys On Ice at the Rep) but the most admirable role he’s played here has probably been that of Acting and physics teacher at the Milwaukee High School of the Arts. His performance here is quite explosive in places—particularly in Funeral Tango—possibly the single best musical rendering of anger I can ever remember seeing onstage. 


The Skylight Opera’s production of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris runs through February 20th at the Broadway Theatre Center’s Cabot Theatre. A concise,  comprehensive review of the show runs in the next Shepherd-Express.

 

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