Saturday, September 11, 2010

REVIEW: “THE KID FROM PARIS: JEAN BRASSARD SINGS MONTAND” AT THE ACTORS SHAKESPEARE COMPANY IN JERSEY CITY

WHEN: September 12–19; Sundays at 3 PM, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM
WHERE:
The Actors Shakespeare Company, West Side Theatre, 285 West Side Avenue, Jersey City, on the campus of New Jersey City University and just minutes away from Routes 440, 1-9, Route 280 and the NJ Turnpike extension I-78.

ASC PhotoDid you have your heart set on going to Paris this summer, but your shrinking budget dictated a “staycation”? Well, don’t despair. The folks at the Actors Shakespeare Company in Jersey City have found a way to bring a bit of Paris to you: The Kid from Paris: Jean Brassard Sings Montand, a celebration of the great French entertainer, performed by Jean Brassard, cabaret-style, at the theater on West Side Avenue, runs for just four more performances before closing September 19.

You don’t know much French, you sputter? You don’t need to be fluent in that language to understand the songs made famous by Montand. Brassard, who hails from Québec and who speaks English and French, explains the meaning of most songs, while his wiry body English, fluid dance steps and expressive hands really sell the songs so well that you begin to think you’ve understood every word! “It’s a show that flirts in two languages,” Brassard says, with a sly Montand smile.

So who was Yves Montand? He started off as “The Kid from Marseille,” leaning out his window, watching an amateur show in the alley below and dreaming of becoming an American cowboy or a dancer like Fred Astaire. He was a fantastiste, a dreamer, a young man whose dreams would take him to Paris where he became a protegé/lover of the great chanteuse Edith Piaf, who helped develop his signature piece, “the sketch song,” a song that told a story, which Montand sang and acted out at the same time. He was the quintessential bon vivant, who has perfected the art of aimlessly wandering the grand boulevards of Paris. He was an outspoken political performer who sang about Les Casse-Têtes, prisoners who were beaten by police during interrogation.

And he conquered America too, appearing Signoret, Montand, Monroeon The Dinah Shore Show in 1959 and on Broadway in An Evening with Yves Montand the same year. An incurable romantic, he acted in 58 films, most notably (for us) in Hollywood’s Let’s Make Love with Marilyn Monroe. When he died in 1991 at 70, he was planning a comeback in the tradition of the French music hall. (Right: Montand with his wife Simone Signoret & Marilyn Monroe)

But you really don’t have to be familiar with the real Yves Montand. Brassard, beautifully accompanied by Richard Maheux (keyboards), Sean Dixon (percussion) and Masataka Okaka (bass and guitar), infuses the little black box theater with the Gallic spirit. I especially love the way he uses various hats to define the person/character Montand is portraying. From the red cowboy hat of his youth, to the black Homburg for the sketch song Ce Monsieru-Là, to the tweed cap of the Kid from Paris and the shiny top hat of the actor auditioning à la Fred Astaire—hats, les chapeaux, define Yves Montand!

Brassard, like Montand, doesn’t have a very strong voice, but he doesn’t need one for the quiet songs favored by his hero. What he does have is the ability to interpret the song so well that we believe he is Montand, or the character in the song he’s singing. His personal reminiscences of his own mother and father are charming and sweet. David Krueger’s direction is steady and deft, and Paul Hudson’s atmospheric lighting smoothly moves the audience’s attention from place to place as the scene changes.

Engaging, delightful, oh! so Gallic! The Kid from Paris: Jean Brassard Sings Montand has brought Paris to New Jersey! But don’t wait too long to purchase tickets. The last show is Sunday, September 19, at 3 PM. Call for tickets today. It’s an inexpensive vacation and one you’ll remember for a long time!

TICKETS: $30; $15 students/seniors; children under 15, pay your age! For tickets and information, call the box office at 201.200.2390 or visit http://www.theatermania.com/ or http://www.ascnj.org/.