Three years ago, Theo Ubique presented “A Jacques Brel Revue: Songs of Love and War,” spotlighting songs of the grandfather of virtually all contemporary singer-songwriters, the Belgian-born Jacques Brel (1929-1978), who had a cultural significance across post-World War II Europe that was a precursor of elements of The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Elvis all rolled into one. When Brel stopped touring in the late 1960s, the void became an unlikely off-Broadway show and double cast album called “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” which was little more than a non-narrative revue of Brel songs translated into English. Such was the power of the songs, however, that the show and the album became cultural icons, despite the fact that the translations often had little to do with the French originals. Theo Ubique was able to secure the rights to wry and witty new English translations far more reflective of Brel’s world-weary lyrics by Western Michigan University English chair Arnold Johnson, who this time around has worked with Theo Ubique’s Fred Anzevino to conceive and create a new Brel “show” that carefully juxtaposes twenty Brel songs to create a powerfully introspective narrative about two soldiers, a whore and a bartender at a port bar in, where else, 1959 “Amsterdam.” The result is a genuine ninety-minute masterpiece that eloquently speaks of life’s mysteries, pleasures and pains as only Brel could convey them. In fact, the material is so good, you suspect that despite the best efforts of a talented and spirited quartet, you begin to realize how totally transforming this stuff would be with singers a bit less masculine, operatic and contrasting in their approaches (there are three loud male baritones and only a single female soprano) and with some evocative orchestration beyond a far too literal piano and some sparse guitar. (Dennis Polkow)
“Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Lovers of the Night” runs at the No Exit Café, 6970 North Greenwood, (773)743-3355, through October 26. $20-$40.