IN THE PENINSULA SPOTLIGHT: Key City Playhouse to host production of Jacques Brel works

IN THE PENINSULA SPOTLIGHT: Key City Playhouse to host production of Jacques Brel works

PORT TOWNSEND — The time has come to slide into music and Paris.

A septet of singers and players are ready to take you there, no plane fare required, via a cabaret-style revue at the Key City Playhouse — but beware.

“Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” is “not going to be like anything you’ve ever seen or heard,” promises singer John Boelling.

The Key City Public Theatre production of “Alive and Well,” which premiered off-Broadway in 1966 and enjoyed a London revival in 2006, arrives in downtown Port Townsend this coming week.

Previews begin this Wednesday and opening night is next Friday, June 29; the show brings together vocalists from Portland, Ore., Seattle and Port Townsend, plus a trio of local musicians, for a three-week run.

“Whatever your preconceptions might be about musicals, musical revues or cabaret, put them away,” said Boelling, who with his wife Cynthia has come up from Portland to co-star in the revue.

“Jacques Brel was an utterly unique songwriter . . . . Each song is its own story, its own little world,” the singer said. “The show itself will keep you on your toes, going from rollicking up-tempo ensemble numbers to extremely personal, heart-felt songs, songs that bite and mock, absurd songs, songs that will choke you up, shock you, make you laugh,” all in just under two hours.

The titles of Brel’s songs may not be instantly recognizable to an American audience, said Denise Winter, “Alive and Well’s” director. But the Belgian-born balladeer, who lived in Paris during the late 1950s, was an influence and an inspiration to musicians across the world. His style, Winter said, can be heard in Leonard Cohen, Ray Charles and Judy Collins, to name a few.

And the music in “Alive and Well” takes the audience on one exhilarating trip, through romance, friendship, love, loss and even a bullfight. The opening number, “Marathon,” sets the tone with its musical references from the 1920s up to the ’90s; songs such as “The Desperate Ones,” “Bachelor’s Dance,” “Timid Frieda” and “The Bulls” keep the mood shifting throughout the show, just as each singer offers his or her interpretation.

“One song people might remember is ‘Sons of.’ It comes toward the end of the first act,” Winter noted. “Janna [Marit] sings it, and she has an emotional depth that is very exciting to see.

“Each performer,” the director added, “gets a yummy moment.”

Cynthia Boelling is clearly smitten with Brel’s music, in all its high and lows. She describes “Alive and Well” as a metaphor for life — for performers and audience.

“You never know what is going to come your way, so best to be open and ready for absolutely anything,” she said.

“This show is an emotional roller coaster in the best way. Revel in it!”

“Alive” isn’t just about singing, of course.

“This show is filled with fast and fun dancing, especially the group numbers like ‘Marathon,’ ‘Madeleine’ and ‘Brussels,’” Cynthia said. “I love the challenge, and the fabulous feeling of all those moves sinking into my body until I can turn my mind off and just enjoy the way it all feels.”

She also loves performing with her husband. Cynthia and John sing together often, but it’s been a long time since they appeared together in a musical.

“This is such a great opportunity to reconnect,” she said, “and embolden our shared creativity.”

The Boellings came to Port Townsend thanks in part to John’s parents Barb and Mack Boelling, who are lovers of Key City Public Theatre — and child care providers for their granddaughter Greta, 6.

“She happily kisses us goodbye as we head off to rehearsal and she to the beach,” said Cynthia.

And Greta, who will turn 7 the week “Alive and Well” opens, will soon get to see her parents on stage.

“I think Grandma and Grandpa will accompany her to one of the previews, taking her out to the lobby during one song in particular. But other than that, she can handle it,” said her mother.

Casting a musical such as this is far from simple, said Winter. You’ve got to find the right individual voices, the right blend — and if you’re lucky, you also find musicians who take the experience even higher.

That’s what’s happening here, Winter said. “It’s pure joy to be in rehearsal.”

The Boellings are Portland Opera performers and have their own group, the Sometime Quartet; Marit is a singer and actress trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles while Pierce is an Equity actor known for his work in the Seattle theater community. Together, they create Brel’s world with the help of their band: guitarist Michael Townsend, upright bass man Michael Burr and pianist Darrell Plank.

“We brought the band further forward,” said Winter. “They are the centerpiece of the whole thing,” while the singers prowl around them, caressing players and audience with their voices.

“We’re all part of it,” Winter said.

“Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris” runs this Wednesday through July 15, with previews at 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; after that, curtain times are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 7 p.m. Sundays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Key City Playhouse, 419 Washington St.

Tickets are $10 for students at all shows; $15 for previews; $20 for Friday and Saturday evenings and $18 for all other performances.

Information and reservations are available at 360-379-0195, while details about this and other Key City shows and activities await at www.KeyCityPublicTheatre.org.

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