"Jacques Brel Is..." fit Wolf Trap Farm Park last night about as well as a chess match fits a football stadium.
"Jacques Brel" is a cabaret show, and it belongs in a cabaret. The Old Vat Room at Arena Stage would be ideal. In Wolf Trap's vast spaces, the singers were far-away dots and the heavy amplification muddied the louder passages until the lyrics were almost as indistinguishable as the faces.
Some of the lyrics, sad to say, were better off misunderstood. Brel and his American adaptors, Eric Blau and Mort Shuman, do not socre any points for subtlety. "If we only have love/We can melt all the guns" is typical.
Brel also had a penchant for novelty endings to his songs, and they can be irritating - sometimes because they're so cute, sometimes because they're not (an adroit consideration of how bulls feel inside the ring ends with a sledge-hammer recital of such names as "Hiroshima" and "Saigon").
Still, Brel's simple tunes are hard to forget, especially when they are heard in the proper atmosphere - such as their original home at the Village Gate in Greenwich Village.
Three of the Village Gate veterans are with the company that performed at Wolf Trap: director Blau and singers Elly Stone and Shawn Elliott.
Stone belted out her signature songs in her throbbing, highly perfumed falsetto. But Elliott was singing all the male songs that he didn't get to sing in the original production, with mixed results. He was better in the lighter material ("Jackie") than in the more bloated tunes ("Amsterdam").
Joseph Neal and Marjorie Cohen completed the company with Neal doing a better job coping with Wolf Trap's acoustics than anyone else on stage.
Brel groupies were probably excited by the performances of three numbers missing from the Village Gate cast album, but the rest of us could understand why they weren't included, espcially the lacklustre "Girls and Dogs."