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Larry Litt

A Cabaret Evening of Brel & Piaf

A Cabaret Evening of Brel & Piaf
Presented by Woodstock Fringe Festival of Theatre and Song
Directed by Nicola Sheara
Jared Dembowski, Music Director
Byrdcliffe Theater
Woodstock, NY
Reviewed August 26, 2010 by Larry Litt

I have always regarded a cabaret as a musical variety show meant to transport its audience through a wide range of emotional memories through a number of creative songs. I sit listening and watching the singers pour their hearts out through love songs, songs that ask me to recall the loves I've known in the past…or, more often, the ones I still have by my side.

"A Cabaret Evening of Brel & Piaf" highlights similarities between the love songs of two of the greatest exponents of French chanson styling. In the capable musical hands of Jared Dembowski the show's overture sets the mood for a lover's evening in the quotidian tradition. The medley hints at the talent that will bring us to the cafes and nightclubs of romantic Paris.

There's not enough room here to describe all the provocative pleasures of this captivating show, so here are just some of the French chanson treasures.

Creating our French evening's urbane setting is Troy Valjean Rucker, whose "Poor People of Paris" regales for us the uplifting delights of a cabaret to the oppressed, impoverished Parisians. Who needs songs of love more than them? Rucker's tremulous tenor returns to sing solo and joins in harmonies from Heaven.

Wallace Norman's whimsical and sympathetic version of Brel's "Fannette" tells the story of an innocent young woman who falls into the profession of street walking. We feel her life go by as Norman's voice empathizes with the Parisian in kindly compassion, and this universal exposition could be about anyone's daughter in any poor or rich country. With Brel's "Jackie" we overhear the gigolo map out his life's path through humor, and with a typical shoulder shrug, teaching us just how easy it to get caught up in the shady side of life when the going gets rough.

Again Brel's "Mon Dieu" and "La Vie La Amour" are given a wonderful workout by sensitive songstress Watson Heintz. She carries Jacques Brel's playful attitude and transporting tones to happy picnics with melancholy nights in "Luxembourg Gardens."

It is Vicky Devany who will shock you into the multilayered worlds of Edith Piaf with a jolt of passionate pain that will have you weeping and grinning simultaneously. Devany gives each song a life born of cruel street experience. She comes as close to Piaf as anyone I've ever heard before. Her duet with Heintz in "La Vie en Rose" is a dream that brings us to a time we can only see through art.

All four singers work together on several songs including a stimulating "If We Only Have Love" that awoke in me a strata of deeply repressed memories of my youth, as well as a longing for peace and pleasure.

I cannot go to a cabaret without someone I love, or will try to love. What's the point? It would just be too sad. But with twenty songs in both English and French, a well matched, likable cast who clearly enjoy both themselves and a glass of wine from the bar, "A Cabaret Evening of Brel & Piaf" is a French aphrodisiac that you'll always remember.

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