With the age of jukebox musicals seeming to have to no expiry date, it is somewhat refreshing to see a more original take on the genre, especially one that doesn't count on gimmicks, flashy set or over the top costumes. It is perhaps testimony to the material that the songs of Jacques Brel, the Belgian singer-songwriter are able to create an effective musical revue, rather than be shoehorned into a formulaic structure such as 'Beautiful' or 'Jersey Boys'.
Unlike those two examples however Jacques Brel is hardly a household name. Very few of his songs have made their way into mainstream culture, which for this charming revue means most fall on the audience for the first time. Using a strong cast of four performers, Director Andrew Keates curates an evening which explores the composer's work throughout his career with an astute mix of up-tempo comedy songs alongside the more heartfelt smaller moments.
It's successful to some extent. Without any linear or overarching structure, some may find the overall revue less than the sum of its total parts. The individual songs and performances vary in style and quality, with good division throughout the ensemble meaning each of the performers has ample opportunity to shine.
Gina Beck excels in this format, proving the most sensitive performer and least overblown. Her voice is pure in tone and presence ultimately engaging - one of her early songs 'I Loved' proves to be one of the strongest moment of the overall piece, that does seem a tad too long. Daniel Boys shows a wide range of characters, bringing both heart and comedy to his track, making 'Song For Old Lovers' a highlight of the second act.
I was never convinced by the larger group numbers, with the choreography overstretching the abilities of at least two of the performers, resulting in some uneven moments as well as points where I wasn't utterly sure the whole cast were on top of the lyrics.
The production is smoky, atmospheric and extremely classy, which is an absolute delight to see in this venue. Keates proves himself yet again to be an intelligent director and a clear story teller, unearthing the stories within each song, and presenting them in refreshing and thought provoking ways.
The true star of the evening however is musical director Dean Austin, who leads an exceptional onstage band through Brel's music with sensitivity, precision and passion. There are moments where you want to tone down the belting and just listen to the accompaniment, soaking up the well controlled atmosphere that gives the whole piece life and heart.
Those who are new to Brel's world will find much to enjoy as this production certainly proves he is alive and kicking in London.