Bobby Smith on ‘Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris’ at MetroStage by Joel Markowitz

In Part Four of interviews with the cast of MetroStage’s Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, Bobby Smith talks about performing in MetroStage’s production.

Bobby Smith.

Joel: Why did you want to be part of the MetroStage production of Jacques Brel..?  

Bobby: Fantastic cast, amazing creatives, Brilliant music, beautiful little jewel box venue.  what more can an actor ask?

When were you first introduced to the music of Jacques Brel?

I have only been aware of a few songs over the years  Many colleagues I have performed with have always been so passionate about his music, but it wasn’t until we began our 2-week rehearsal process that I was able to fully appreciate his work.

What is so unique about Brel’s music and lyrics? 

More than a third of the Jacques Brel score is in triple time — which is extraordinarily rare for pop songs or theatre songs –The music is deceptivly complex, but more amazing is the lack of bridges in the music. He doesn’t need to write a bridge that then tells the listener what the song is really about. Brel writes about the way we live in a world we did not create. The words have all the complexity and beauty of poetry, and yet they work as lyrics. They are instantly comprehensible on one level, while later reflection still reveals even more depth under the surface. This anomaly may be due partly to the fact that these songs were not written as poetry or as theatre lyrics; they were written to be sung in clubs and coffee houses in France and Belgium.

What did you learn about Jacques Brel that you didn’t know before appearing in this production? 

At the beginning of 1967, while performing at Carnegie Hall, he saw a production of Man of La Mancha, a musical inspired by Cervantes’s famous novel Don Quixote, and decided to recreate the musical for a European audience. So he then turned his attention to his acting career. In 1968, Jacques played the role of Don Quixote in his version of LHomme de la ManchaI, which he translated and directed. He also penned the accompanying soundtrack, which was released later that year.

What was the best advice Director Serge Seiden and Choreographer Matt Gardiner gave you about performing your songs and what did they tell you was his ‘vision’ for this production?

It is always enlightening to work with Serge and Matt. They are both wonderfully smart men and understand what an audience can absorb. They stressed simplicity, words, irony, tenderness, and survival..

Tell me about your solos in the show, and what personal experiences you bring every time you perform these songs that help you convey the emotions and stories of these songs.

That is a personal and vulnerable image of emotional recall for every actor, so if I tell you, I will have to kill you.

If you could sing a solo that someone else sings in the show, what would it be and why would you like to sing it? 

I am fine with the songs I have in the show.  I love listening to each of my colleagues bring there bring their songs to life each night.

The cast of ‘Jacques Brel..’: Natascia Diaza, Sam Ludwig, Bobby Smith, and Bayla Whitten. Photo by Christopher Banks.

You have all had a busy year on the stage. What were your two favorite shows and roles and why? 

There are rarely favorite roles anymore, every show becomes a special experience because of the talent and creative time I spend with artists during a run of a show.  I feel blessed to be employed and doing what I love.

What’s next for you on the stage after this production closes?

I am choreographing You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown with 6 wonderfully talented students at Montgomery College, and James Gardiner directing.  Immediately after Jacques Brel closes, I begin directing Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella at Olney Theatre Center. I will be working at Adventure Theatre this year as well, and I am looking forward to playing Peter in Company at Signature Theatre.

What do you want audiences to take with them when they leave MetroStage after seeing all of you perform Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris?

Brel tells us — we have a strength and a survival instinct that gets us through even the worst of what life and the world might have to teach us. It is a show that is not necessarily understood on a conscious level. But at the end of the show, all these things explode in the insanity and chaos of “Carousel” and then the conflict, the tension, is resolved in the last song, “If We Only Have Love.” We not only come to understand what Brel thinks is wrong with the world, but also where he thinks the solution lies. Like any good satirist or commentator, he takes aim at himself along with the rest of us, and we get to know his philosophies, his sense of humor, and his unwavering faith in human nature to do good and come out on top.

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