I always look forward to attending a Silo Theatre production because I know I can expect a slick performance and an excellent night of theatre. I was particularly excited for BREL as I have only thus far seen plays by Silo and so was really keen to see how they would pull off this extraordinary collaboration of concert and cabaret.
You may not know who Jacques Brel is – as did I – but you will find you have come across his music. In my opinion, this is the true mark of a great artist. He wrote over 300 songs in his lifetime and his legacy still lives on to today – many of these have been translated and performed by big names in the business such as David Bowie, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Leonard Cohen and Nina Simone, to name a few. He is the third best-selling Belgian recording artist of all time and is known as one of the pioneering chansons in musical history.
Jacques Brel is a singer-songwriter in its truest form. His songs provide a window into his soul and his perspective on life, love and the human condition. His writing style is often described as dark, cynical, witty, passionate and revolutionary which spring from his reaction and experiences growing up at the time of the German invasion of Belgium during the Second World War.
Thank you to Jackson Perry for the photo!
BREL, put simply, is absolutely breathtakingly phenomenal. Described as “cabaret noir”, it is a staggering homage and wonderful celebration of Jacques Brel’s works – twenty-one carefully selected songs performed by some exceptional vocal talent. Tama Waipara, Jon Toogood and Julia Deans are all household names in the New Zealand music scene and need no introduction. Rounding up the quartet is seasoned theatre veteran Jennifer Ward-Lealand, touted the “First Lady of Cabaret” who is also one of Silo’s trust board members.
The set up of the performance space is incredibly gorgeous with its many vintage lamps peppered all over the stage; this intimate atmosphere is heavily nostalgic of the smoky, dimly lit underground jazz bars commonly found in New York and Berlin. This set the mood and tone of the show immediately and increased my excitement considerably.
From the moment the quartet took to the stage and the four-piece band kicked in, you are completely transported into the profound and fascinating world of Brel. His music is considered one of the major influences in contemporary music today and I can see why – his songs are timeless anthems that speak of both the joy and pain that is inevitable in life and love. The songs are a perfect marriage of stunning melodies and absolute poetic gold – heartfelt, poignant and gut-wrenching.
Every song is performed to perfection with lots of heart and personality, a hint of cheek, and bucket loads of attitude and flair. Each performance transitions seamlessly and effortlessly to the next and with each song, you are left wanting more.
I thought all four performers emoted and interpreted the songs brilliantly; they had great intuitive musical timing and consistently delivered the story behind each song compellingly and with conviction. From haunting ballads to energetic anthems, performed both in English and fluently in French, the song list is an eclectic mix to suit any musical taste bud.
Equally as flawless are “Balkan music titans” Dr. Colossus, the extremely talented men behind the music. Under the skilled direction of Leon Radojkovic, the band come together smoothly as one voice, either to help instill a sense of drama, build up the narrative of a song or simply to complement the vocal performance. Throw in the well-timed, effective use of lighting too and what you get is sublime and decadent music magic.
BREL is a cabaret and theatrical masterpiece and an absolute triumph. Michael Hurst’s accomplished direction has succeeded in creating a mesmerizing and unforgettable musical tribute to one of the greatest artists in the twentieth century. This is not only a vocal spectacle and musical journey you must experience but one that you NEED to.
The Whimsical Banana rates BREL: 5/5 bananas
BREL is at the magnificent Concert Chamber in the Town Hall until 24 November. For more information and to buy tickets, click here.