Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night – 2017


Music by Jacques Brel.

Lyrical Translation by Arnold Johnston.

Conceived by Fred Anzevino and Arnold Johnston.

Arrangements by Joshua Stephen Kartes.

Directed by Fred Anzevino.

Produced by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre, Chicago.

At No Exit Cafe, Chicago.

A Pleasantly Moody, Musical Revue.

In 2009, Theo Ubique received the Jeff Award for Best Musical for their original musical revue Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night. Now, 8 years later, it’s back; and while I can’t speak to how this production matches up with the original, I can say that Jacques Brel’s music is beautifully melodic and that the production is a success insofar as it inspires one to listen more to this seemingly lesser-known composer and lyricist.

According to the press release, the revue “follows two soldiers at port in a shabby waterfront bar in Amsterdam, in 1959.” This pseudo-narrative arcs inconspicuously throughout the musical numbers, but never really becomes compelling—which is fair enough, since it’s basically an excuse to showcase the music, and the music is the only reason to see the show.\

Together with the two soldiers (David Moreland and Neil Stratman), a bartender (Randolph Johnson) and a woman (Jill Sesso) (a prostitute, I dare venture) sing nearly two dozen of Brel’s songs—“songs,” the press release describes, “of sex, death, bruised romance and cynicism.” With the moody, dramatic lighting; the ever-lingering lady of the night; the easy-pour, easy-down booze; and the down-and-out, sailor-on-leave feel of the bar, I think I grasp the feel the production was going for, but I myself never really fell into that world—though I would have liked to!

Now, there’s kind of a running joke with ChicagoCritic, as it seems that, if ever there is one reviewer to complain about not being able to hear a production, it’s one of us. Unfortunately, that joke continues: I could not hear the majority of the lyrics. Full discloser: I was probably sitting in the worst seats in the house (the far back, by the sound/light board), and a young woman I approached after the show said she didn’t have any trouble. So, I guess it’s just me, but avoid sitting in the back if you can help it!

Of course, having not heard much of the show, I cannot comment on the lyrical sentiment of the music. The music alone, however, was very beautiful, its melodies especially. And Jeremy Ramey’s piano playing was stupendous; in fact, I enjoyed watching him play more than I enjoyed watching the singers—which I mean as a compliment to his expressive and energetic playing, not as a slight to the singers.

The singing is another aspect of the production I feel unqualified to give strong opinion on, as my ear was attuned to Jon Anderson’s caterwaul well before I discovered singers with classically trained voices. That said, whether because of articulation or charisma, the two singers who stood out to me were Jill Sesso and Randolph Johnson (though Johnson’s articulation was the most mumbled to my ear). Sesso delights in the eponymous song “The Lonesome Losers of the Night,” and Johnson’s baritone stole the show for me in the songs “The Song of Jacky” and “Those People.” I couldn’t tell you what those songs were about, but for me they had the most intriguing melodies and refrains. As a company, “The Flat Land” was the best.

Sitting at the back of No Exit Café, hearing the play of the piano within the dim room as the singers breathed life into sentiments older than myself, I caught a glimpse of an old world that was once new and fresh—a world, one imagines, in which the patrons of this “shabby waterfront bar” made love to their glasses as passionately as they made love to their women—as passionately as they rode and communed with the high seas. Then I looked around and saw a bunch of reviewers arched over their papers, jotting notes, and the magic faded: a revue can take you so far, but it’s not the thing in itself. Yet, if you’re open to the experience, this show has the potential to take you far enough.

Recommended.

 August Lysy.

 Playing at the No Exit Café, 6970 N Glenwood Ave., Chicago. Tickets are $29 – $34, with $4 discounts tickets for students and seniors. For tickets and information, call 800-595-4849, or visit Theo-U.com. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 7:00 p.m. through August 6th. (Exception: performance on Sunday, June 25th.) Running time is 80 minutes with no intermission.

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