Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Review: Sing'Theatre's 'Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris'


Running till 4 June at SOTA Drama Centre

Active promoter of French culture in Singapore, Sing'Theatre's latest production is a musical revue of the songs of Jacques Brel. It was first debuted off-Broadway in 1968 and was revived numerous times in NYC and other parts of the world.

This local production is directed, choreographed and performed by George Chan with Frances Lee, Stephanie von Driesen and Matt Jasper as his cast mates. It is a good example of how to fill up a relatively large stage with simple sets and costumes. Flies that also function as screen projections hide music director Joel Nah's four piece band behind only to reveal them at key moments, while giving the stage a sense of spaciousness. For sets, the performers carry four large suitcases of varying sizes that also function as theatre cubes.

The collective ensemble presented 28 songs without intermission. Each song was presented as a mini-play, with no discernible storyline throughout. Certainly Brel's way of lyrical storytelling, with themes of anti-establishment, personal struggles and the occasional torch song provide meaty challenges for the cast of singing actors.





The singing was stellar throughout the evening's hour-and-a-half presentation, with four strong voices capable of holding their own yet able to blend well in tight harmonies (no doubt helped by the beautifully arranged harmonic writing). A comfortable chemistry was shared by the four performers. Malaysian-based Stephanie von Driesen brought the house down with her impeccable French diction and heartfelt yet freely belted rendition of If You Go Away. Despite a tendency for the pitch to go floaty in lighter passages, George Chan displayed strong vocal command in high climatic passages, while executing energetic dance moves that involve climbing ladders and playing a matador. UK and SG-based stage and TV actor Matt Jasper showed fine musicianship with his ability to sing bass harmonies and nail high notes at different moments, all the while remaining truthful to the dramatic situation at hand. Singaporean and LASALLE alumnus Frances Lee showed that she is equally adept in strongly supported singing, portraying a variety of characters and moods and executing choreography.

While most of the songs presented were new to me, I found myself captivated with many numbers for the message in the lyrics and strength of the singing. While the theatre was sparsely attended, those who came enjoyed the show so much that the cast and crew received an enthusiastic standing ovation. You have till 4 June to catch the show and enjoy it for yourself! 

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