When Belgian composer Jacques Brel's songs were translated into English and presented as an off-Broadway musical revue in 1968, it took the world by storm. Audiences were spellbound by Brel's musings on life and death, love and war, and the original cast — Elly Stone, Mort Shuman, Shawn Elliott and Alice Whitfield — delivered them memorably. It's become the stuff of legend and a popular revival all over the world ever since.
How sad it was, then, to see DOMA Theatre Co's ill-conceived production, directed by Hallie Baran, last Friday night at the MET Theater in Hollywood. The simple revue with a cast of four has been bloated to eight performers, and it's been saddled with a ridiculous backstory about three generations of a family coming to clean out Grandma's attic, adding unnecessary business to the piece and lessening the impact of some of the songs.
The performers ranged from adequate to fine, with Jon Paul Burkhart probably having the best pipes and the best hold on the material. Kristen Towers-Rowles does a good job with her songs, particularly "Sons of" and "Carousel." But AnnaLisa Erickson, as the grandmother, is trying too hard to be liked, constantly strutting around the stage with over-the-top theatricality.
Her brassy voice isn't appropriate for Brel's material, and it's a shame she was given two of his most plaintive songs — "My Death" and "Old Folks." Her performance of "Amsterdam" is better, but it's written for a male singer.
And the reprise, with a tone-deaf M.A. Gomez appearing as a long-haired rock and roll singer, was a complete misfire. Speaking of gender switches, Josie Yount's voice is fine, but she sings songs written for a male, and they don't make any sense performed by a female singer, since they're written from a man's point of view, especially "Jacky."
Mary Mather gets only one number to herself, which is too bad, because she hits "Marieke" out of the park. Keith Barletta does an okay "The Statue," but much better are the men's ensembles of "The Bulls" and "The Middle Class."