GSC’s ‘Jacques Brel’ will break your heart … again


"If We Only Have Love." L to R: Daniel Robert Sullivan, Douglas Jabara, Shana Dirik and Jennifer Ellis Photo: Gary Ng

“If We Only Have Love.” L to R: Daniel Robert Sullivan, Douglas Jabara, Shana Dirik and Jennifer Ellis Photo: Gary Ng

GLOUCESTER — As a songwriter and performer, the late Jacques Brel wore his heart on his sleeve.The Belgian wrote and performed with great emotional honesty, no matter what his theme: love lost or won, the madness of war, the sadness of old age, etc.

A half-century ago, admirers of Brel in this country began to translate many of his works — he wrote and performed in French — and eventually selected 25 of the best for a musical revue: “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” which debuted off-Broadway in 1968.

A full disclosure by this reviewer: The revue has been a favorite of mine since I first saw it about 40 years ago in its first run in Boston, and then rushed out to buy the cast album.

Carousel: Jennifer Ellis and Shana Dirik. Photo: Gary Ng

Carousel: Jennifer Ellis and Shana Dirik. Photo: Gary Ng

“Jacques Brel” was also a hit when it was first staged by the Gloucester Stage Company in 2003, so much so that company later transferred to Boston for another run.
Now the revue has returned to Gloucester with a new cast under the direction of GSC Artistic Director Eric Engel, and the piece — and the songs — have lost none of their power.
Simply presented on a stage of rainbow-colored planks that turn upwards in the rear, and with a few simple props, Brel requires a cast with not only a good set of pipes, but the ability to act and tell a story.
The GSC cast has both the acting ability and the voices to cover the composer’s wide range of emotions.
There are ensemble highlights such as the buoyant “Madeleine,” but each of the cast members also has a chance to shine individually.
Jennifer Ellis, last seen to good advantage in Stoneham’s “The Secret Garden,”
has two first-act highlights in the somber and very moving “My Death” and the angry anti-war voice of “My Childhood.”
Daniel Robert Sullivan is her male counterpart whose yearnings are apparent in “Bachelor’s Dance.”
Douglas Jabara and Shana Dirik are the older couple who have experienced more of life’s joys and disappointments.
Jabara and Ellis team beautifully for “Ne Me Quitte Pas,” and Jabara and Sullivan also team up for the sardonic, cynical and sarcastic “The Middle Class.”
Jabara also bitterly and beautifully recalls “Amsterdam.
Dirik builds beautifully in her first-act “Sons of…” while in the second act
she and Ellis meld beautifully in “We’re Not Alone.” Dirik’s searing second-act rendition of “Marieke” is a show-stopper, even if it is one of the few numbers not translated into English.
The building rhythms of “Carousel” eventually leads into the climactic — and ultimately hopeful — anthem “If We Only Have Love.”
The four-piece band led by David McGrory is in strong harmony with the voices. 
“Jacques Brel” will only be in Gloucester for one more week, and few seats remain, but make the effort.
Whether you’re being introduced to Brel for the first time, or you’re a fan of 40 years, the songs — and the performers — still have the power to move you in many different ways.
Eleven years after he first took Gloucester by storm, Jacques Brel will break your heart again.
The Gloucester Stage Company production “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.” Production Conception, English Lyrics, and Additional Material by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman, Based on Jacques Brel’s Lyrics and Commentary; Music by Jacques Brel, Directed by Eric Engel, Musical Direction by David McGrory; Set and Costume Design, Props Master, Ryan Bates; Lighting Design, Russ Swift; Production Stage Manager, Marsha Smith. Through July 6 at the Gorton Theatre.