“The French are the ones who made sadness- -chic.” Steve Ross . . .
By Bailey Van Schepen. . .
This was my first show coming back from the restricted world . . . a theatre-less world. I was beyond nervous and a bit overwhelmed by the nostalgia of the space at Pangea- an intimidatingly beautiful venue that looked as if it did not collect a single piece of dust since the pandemic started. Pangea- a haven for artists of all sorts to come together and entertain. Pangea- a space that has harbored the full-house audiences for an impressive laundry list of performers since 1986… and the show presented coming out of Theatre’s 15 month hiatus was a French homage in honor of Bastille Day by Steve Ross, Jean Brassard and friends.
Steve Ross, suited in red beret and jacket at the piano, opens the show with a medley of French melodies Piano Pour Piaf. While I expected nothing short of marvelous from him, I did not intend to witness how deep his experience runs. No time to be bored as one melody moved into the next with poise and grace. His timing was a remarkable reminder of what I missed about seeing cabaret theatre. The bond between audience and artist is a facet that is unique to live performance as he demonstrated masterfully.
With yet another flawless transition, Jean Brassard enters and takes us on a carousel ride with La Valse a Mille Temps by Jacques Brel. This fun, upbeat song progressively picks up pace as it treks on. Though at times, it seemed to be a bit too fast, Brassard powered through every hiccup. The song had a dual purpose – to spark the room and energize every person for the two-hour show ahead. I am pleased to report that not once did that man seem even a little bit winded.
Many songs ensued including the ever popular “Nous Deux/My Love” (Jean-Roger Caussimon) with English adaptation by Jean Brassard and Musique by Leo Ferre. Brassard brought out his harmonica and lovely interchanges of emotions between Ross and Brassard ensued. Brassard showed his musical versatility throughout also playing a family heirloom – his father’s accordion.
The first guest of the evening, Karen Akers, Broadway actor noted for her features in Grand Hotel (1989) and Nine (1982), blessed the stage with her calm and commanding presence and graced our ears with her rich, regal voice as she showcased her mastery with the story of the prostitute in L’Accordioniste by Michel Emer. She sang with so much action and intention, I almost did not need the physicality she so generously offered. She said in passing that this was her first live performance out of quarantine, and if this is where she starts, I can only imagine how much more refined it will be when the show takes the stage once again on August 6.
Reputable jazz-singer, Stephanie Biddle, draped in all white accented with a bold red lip, provided a different skill set. The raspy quality of her voice added an edge, albeit she fell off tempo and appeared unsure. However, she took hold of the reigns and got back on track with effortless grace and humor.
Throughout the evening Ross and Brassard engaged in repartee providing history and facts about the songs and composers, adding their own brand of wit and exuding an ultimate charm and special magic.
What would a salute to Bastille Day be without the comic, yet forlorn “Madeleine” (English lyric Eric Blau/Jacques Brel) enacted by the impeccable Jean Brassard!
From Charles Tenet’s “La Mer” and “Que reste-t’ll de nos amours?, the songs kept the audience enthralled, with a shout-out to the music of Michel LeGrand/lyrics Norman Gimbel’s “Watch What Happens/Windmills of My Mind.” The show culminated in Cole Porter’s effusive “Can Can” giving all a chance to participate in the upbeat synergy of the moment.
Overall, I felt this cabaret stayed true as an ode to France and succeeded as a grand reopening of these performers in the world of cabaret. As an admirer of the arts, I recognize the sheer dominion in the work and give it it’s just due. However, I am a young monolinguistic Millennial and did miss the punchline of inside jokes since I have no understanding of most things French. I looked around the audience and heard lovely French accents and saw many a silver-toned head amongst the full-house. It was unsettling at first, but my comfort level grew enough to admire the work and sheer talent. So, while the material I saw is not my forte, I do have to say that if you identify as a cabaret enthusiast or a Francophile, Allons Enfants is a must see.
The show has been extended on August 6 at Pangea, 178 2nd Ave., NYC 212 995-0900