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A CurtainUp Review
By David Lohrey
Noel Harrison's Adieu, Jacques: The Life & Music of Jacques Brel is as much a concert as it is a play. One feels as one listens as though one were the Queen or King of England and Jacques had dropped by to provide entertainment for visiting royalty, say, the Empress of Siam. One leaves feeling privileged to have heard the finest music this side of Bobby Short at the Carlyle.
Noel Harrison, who both wrote and performs this tribute, has put together a beautiful, moving piece, at once autobiographical - he tells much about himself - and biographical. We learn in the course of the evening the central events of Jacques Brel's short career. We learn about his meteoric rise to fame, about his struggle with celebrity and fame, and about his last years of life. The narrative is held together by Noel Harrison's charming asides. He offers comments on his own life and explains how he was touched and inspired by Jacques Brel. He speaks only fleetingly of his own father, Rex Harrison, and of his own acting career. Noel is a disarmingly humble figure, graceful, witty, and dignified.
Some Americans are suckers for an English accent, especially when it comes out of the mouth of a suave gentleman of some age. I know I am. Is it that thoroughly un-American combination of sophistication and masculinity that makes them so exotic? Maybe. I can't explain it satisfactorily, but I have heard that the squealing female masses thought the rather rough necked Beatles sophisticated, so perhaps I am on to something. In any case, Noel Harrison possesses this "foreign" charm, and it is doubtful many would find themselves immune to it.
He dresses plainly enough, wearing dark jeans, and a black shirt. He spoke of Nova Scotia, and one can easily picture this fellow in the rugged north. Somehow up there as is the case in Kentucky and the wilder parts of Arkansas, men feel as comfortable holding a guitar as they do a pitchfork. Noel possesses this ease. He reminded me of a slender, perhaps softer Johnny Cash.
The music is good. Noel offers a translation before he begins singing, and closes with a few words to give each song greater meaning and biographical context.
The set is as unpretentious as the man. A desk, a chair, and an antique typewriter. Noel doesn't do a lot of moving around, but what action there is, works.
The music by Jacques Brel was new to me. He wrote with passion and vitality. It was not possible for me to understand all of the lyrics, but with Noel's translations, their central meaning came through. More than a little of the man and his era remains with me to this day.