Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in ParisProduction conception, English lyrics, and additional material by
Eric Blau & Mort Shuman
Based on Jacques Brel’s
lyrics and commentary
Jacques Brel: A Life in Song
Singer/songwriter Jacques Brel created and performed a catalog of literate, thoughtful, and theatrical songs that brought him a large, devoted following in France and around the world and influenced an entire generation of singers and songwriters.
Brel was born in Brussels, Belgium, in 1929. After quitting school in 1947, Brel took a job in his father’s cardboard manufacturing plant. During this time, he became increasingly interested in music. He started to perform and write his own songs while a member of a church youth group, where he met Therese Michielsen whom he married in 1950.
In 1952, he performed on local radio, and the next year, he was signed by Philips Records, which released his debut single. Its modest success led to professional bookings locally and, soon, a move to Paris, where he built a following in the city’s cabarets and music halls. In 1954, he made his first appearance at the prestigious Olympia Theater in Paris, followed by his first French tour, and the release of his 9 - song debut album. He achieved a commercial breakthrough in 1956 when his song “Quand On A Que L'Amour” (later adapted into English as “If We Only Have Love”) became a hit.
With the release of additional albums, Brel became a worldwide star and toured internationally much of the year. In February 1963, he made his U.S. performing debut at Carnegie Hall. Artists like The Kingston Trio, Judy Collins, and Joan Baez began recording versions of his songs in English. In the years to come, other famous artists like David Bowie, Ray Charles, Nina Simone, Dusty Springfield, and Frank Sinatra would also record his songs.
In 1966, Brel announced his retirement from concert work, giving a final series of shows in Paris. But he continued to record, and he starred in his first feature film, the non-musical drama Les Risques du Metier, before the end of the year (with nine more movies to follow through 1973). He also turned to theatre, translating and taking the leading role in a French production of the American musical Man of La Mancha that opened in Brussels in 1968 and moved to Paris the following year.
In 1968, Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris opened Off-Broadway. It played nearly 2,000 performances, becoming one of the longest running off-Broadway shows in history. The musical was revived on Broadway in 1972 and 1981, and off-Broadway in 2006. It was also turned into a film in 1975, with Brel himself making a cameo appearance.
In 1974, Brel planned to sail around the world, but the voyage was interrupted by a diagnosis of lung cancer. In 1977, he returned to Paris to record his final album, which sold over 2 million copies. He died the following year at age 49. He has sold over 25 million records worldwide.
Brad Brown, Center Theatre Group Costume Shop, Cynthia Leva, Stephan Socroun
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