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THEATER : In Irvine, a 'Brel' to Be Jealous Of


On the strength of just one show--the musical revue "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris"--the Backstage Theatre has vaulted to the front rank of the Orange County theatrical scene.

This heartfelt production possesses such charm, talent and style that it could be the envy of any small professional company in Los Angeles, Chicago or New York. Theatergoers in this county are lucky to have it. The show closes Saturday, so hurry.

As directed by Al Valletta, the superb ensemble--Tom Hafner, Rowanne Mark, Bil Barratt and Christie Cooke--displays a streety, continental flair that is neither too polished nor too sentimental. They bring an inviting natural quality to their performances; they don't try to overwhelm their songs with glib show-biz glitz. And their energy never flags.

"Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well . . . " debuted in Greenwich Village a quarter-century ago and has been revived frequently ever since. Brel, who died in 1977 at age 49, was a popular Belgian troubadour of the '60s whose clever songs evoke a variety of moods, from sentimental to satiric, bawdy to bucolic.

The Backstage version of the revue--a nonstop songfest of 23 Brel tunes--is a wonderfully intimate affair, performed on a low stage against a painted backdrop of pastel pinks and blues depicting the dockside Cafe de la Fontaine and an adjacent seascape. The only props are a bench, a platform and a handful of low-tech glitter, abetted by the atmospheric orange glow of the stage lighting.

The performers sing to taped accompaniment that sounds surprisingly vibrant. They also wear lapel mikes, which seem unnecessary at such close quarters. But even in the one instance when vocal amplification is evident, it is unobtrusive.

What: "Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris."

When: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.

Where: The Backstage Theatre, 2691 Richter Ave., Suite 105, Irvine.

Whereabouts: San Diego Freeway to Jamboree Road exit, head north to Richter.

Wherewithal: $12.50.

Where to Call: (714) 474-0792.

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