JACQUES BREL IS ALIVE AND WELL AND LIVING IN PARIS; directed by Bart Whiteman; musical direction by Ed Rejuney; lighting by Lea Hart. With Sally Stunkel, Diane Nelthropp, Lance Adel and Walt Cramer.
At d.c. space, Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. through Sept. 12.
This has got to be the way "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" was intended: four players cavorting deftly on a stage 10 by 20 feet, so close you can touch them, so close you can see the sweat and the veins pulsing in the throat and the eyes that sometimes look right at you.
Source Theatre's production of the durable cabaret revue, running at d.c. space through Sept. 12, is a neat, bright little gem. Less than two hours long, limited to an audience of maybe three dozen lucky people, it sparkles with the intelligence of director Bart Whiteman.
At that range you can't afford the slightest theatrical exaggeration, not even stage makeup. You have to choreograph literally every step, every swing of an arm. It is a little bit like a surgeon tying a knot with two fingers in a matchbox. Whiteman understands this well.
One can start with a fairly elaborate $10 dinner at the d.c. space cafe, 7th and E streets NW, with cold fettucine appetizer, stuffed turkey breast, poached trout or vegetarian entree and homemade soup. Or one can just drop in at 8 for the glass of free champagne and the show.
The show . . . musicals are a departure for Source, but you'd never know it. With Ed Rejuney at piano, the cast briskly belts out Brel's songs of sailors and bar girls, shifting almost too quickly to the quiet numbers, the wistful songs of loneliness and lost love. Brel's work has amazing variety. It can sound like Satie in "The Desperate Ones," and the next minute conjure up Carly Simon with "Old Folks." But always, it is French.
Lance Adel's authoritative voice was just right for "The Bulls," a bitter chant with an updated political sting at the end. And Walt Cramer's sense of satire put across the rather peculiar "Funeral Tango," which in the wrong hands would veer dangerously close to collegiate humor.
The crisp delivery of Diane Nelthropp drew perhaps the biggest hand of the evening in "Marieke," one of those intensely felt songs that have to be done very straight, very simply, to work. It worked.
On such a small stage, anything phony is instantly apparent, but so is the genuine. Sally Stunkel, for instance, in "No Love, You're Not Alone," a gentle and moving soliloquy, actually reached out into the audience at the end and kissed a young man (who turned out to be a clarinetist for the U.S. Army Band). Talk about risk. It could have looked ridiculous at the very least. But again, like everything else in that charming, friendly, human-scale production, it worked. It worked just fine.