Two grand pianos accompanying four veteran artists who perform dual language renditions of songs by and about the French fills National Sawdust with civilized buzz. A “Paris Overture” and “La Bohème” (Charles Aznavour/Jacques Plante -English, Brassard), replete with Jean Brassard’s evocative accordion, raise expectations. Black and white projections set the scene. A waltzy, joyful “Sous Le Ciel de Paris” by Karen Akers follows. (Under the Paris Sky – Jean Drejac/Hubert Giraud)
Jean Brassard and Karen Akers
Akers offers a wistful “You Don’t Know Paree” (Cole Porter) with touching sincerity in no small part to personal experience. Shoulders rise, chin comes forward, her head shakes ‘no.’ A moving “Dis, Quand Reviendras-Tu?” (When Will You Return?- Barbara-English, Brassard) exudes melancholy: This will be his the last voyage/The last time our battered hearts will have to endure separation…Michel Emer’s “L’Accordéoniste” is so sympathetic to the sad fille de joie (prostitute), it’s as if the artist reaches out to cradle her.
Steve Ross offers just the right droll take on Cole Porter’s “Give Them the Ooh-la-la” and Alan J. Lerner/Frederick Lowe’s “The Parisians.” Phrasing is impeccable. His version of “Vincent” (Don McClean about Vincent Van Gogh) gets to the very heart of the tender lyric, empathizing with struggle. A duet of “Amsterdam” (Jacques Brel- English, M.Shuman/E.Blau) begins standing beside the piano. Much as he and Brassard are forceful ensemble (together), I can’t help wishing Ross had completed the song solo as he started – spare, direct, harsh.
“Grands Boulevards” (Jacques Plante/Norbert Glanzberg), an Yves Montand number about a flâneur (idler), is presented by Jean Brassard with grace and brio, strolling across the stage. “Casse-tetes” (Headblows by Gebe/P.Gerard- English, Brassard) is political; abrasive. They have knocked me on my head and can’t remember why…Brassard sings, almost spitting lyrics. “Sanguine” (Jacques Prévert/ Henri Crolla), “…about undressing from the male point of view,” is a sensual, melodic poem. Cole Porter’s C’est Magnifique” with Akers warms the theater with bonhomie.
Kathleen Landis is the weak link. Piano often seems a beat behind vocalists and not crisp, singing, erratic. The performer does offer stirring piano solos and joins in “Deshabillez-Moi” with Brassard and Akers- He prepares to offer a rose to one of them and, instead, they gravitate to one another. (Nicely directed.)
Kathleen Landis and Jean Brassard
“Un Homme et Une Femme” (A Man and a Woman– the film theme by Pierre Barouh/Frncis Lai) is played and sung by the company with charm: ba da ba da da da da da da
The audience at this event was drawn by familiarity with songwriters and performers. To break up the evening by predominantly well known information treats those attending as unsophisticated. One feels spoken down to. Further, narrative is broken up between participants, each taking a sentence, a choppy method at best.
Judging by after conversation, I was not the only audience member who would have preferred more Aznavour and Brel to Michel LeGrand’s mostly American material.
Photos by Jill Steinberg
Opening: Steve Ross,Karen Akers, Jean Brassard, Kathleen Landis
Voyage en Chanson
Karen Akers, Jean Brassard, Kathleen Landis, Steve Ross
Conceived and Directed by Jean Brassard
80 North 6th Street, Brooklyn
March 24, 2019