Jacques Brel is Alive and Well at Creative Cauldron: Meet Laura Connors Hull and Matt Conner

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In a series of interviews with the Co-Directors and the cast of Creative Cauldron’s Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, we meet Co-Directors Matt Conner and Laura Connors Hull.

Joel: Why did you want to bring Jacques Brel… to Creative Cauldron?

Matt Conner. Courtesy of Creative Cauldron.
Co-Director Matt Conner. Photo courtesy of Creative Cauldron.

Laura and Matt: My answer to this question is both nostalgic and also artistic…. This piece is a perfect fit for our intimate venue in every way.

Now for the nostalgia… A fellow theater colleague of mine who had seen and fallen in love with the original Off Broadway production, first introduced me to this show when it was playing in Cleveland, Ohio at Playhouse Square. I fell head over heels with Brel’s passionate and profound lyrics and music. The production ran for two and a half years and became known as “the show that saved the theaters” because the historic Playhouse Square theaters were scheduled to be bulldozed and replaced with a parking lot. It is now the largest theater complex in the USA outside of New York City, with over 1,000,000 visitors and 1,000 shows a year. The power of art!

In 1977, as a young director fresh out of college in northeastern Ohio, Jacques Brel was the first production that I ever staged, so this has a very tender spot. The theater company, for which I served as the artistic director, mounted four productions over a 10 year period. The response to these productions was the same every time, audiences were universally moved and entertained in a way that is rare in the theater. In talking with Matt Conner about the show, I felt that he had experienced the same deep connection with the material, and I wanted to see what a new (much younger) pair of eyes might vision for this iconic gem.

Matt brings so much imagination and heart to everything he does and it is wonderful to be collaborating with him on this show. I bring the nostalgia, and an historical viewpoint from the show’s early beginnings, delighting in the idea that we will be introducing this enduring piece of art to new audiences, while also kindling the fires of memory for those who were caught under its spell long ago.

Who is Jacques Brel and what do you admire most about his work?

Jacques Brel was a Belgian singer-songwriter. What I admire most about his work is his ability to capture so many different elements in each and every song.

Brel is considered to be one of the greatest representatives of French chanson in the Post World War II period. I admire his courageous sense of truth…a truth that permeates every song. He cuts right to the core of our experience of living, loving and dying. He peppers his songs with humor and satire, and makes us see the world as it really is, in all of it ugliness and all of its beauty. More that just a songwriter/singer Brel is a poet beyond compare.

What have you learned about Jacques Brel that you didn’t know before you started working on this production?

I have a much deeper understanding for each and every song and a closer connection to Jacques’ intentions.

In my collaboration with Matt and this wonderful intelligent cast, I began to see that each one of his songs can be interpreted in so many different ways. Each song will reach each individual on a different plane, and yet we will all experience a deep sense of connection.

How would you describe a Jacques Brel song?

A Jacques Brel song is filled with very beautiful and complex lyrics. It is in those amazing lyrics the song reaches you in a very simple way, but as the song continues the simplicity becomes very complex and ultimately leaves the listener with a much deeper message about humanity.

There are 26 songs in the show. Which songs are your favorites, and which songs are the most relevant to what is happening in the world today?

The songs I have an instant emotional reaction to are “Sons Of”, “If We Only Have Love”, “Amsterdam” and “Marieke.” All of Jacque Brel’s songs are still current and relevant today.

What have been some of the challenges you have faced directing the production in the intimate space?

The challenges in directing the show have been to know when I should get out of the way of this beautiful fragile yet bold work. There are times, the show just reveals itself rather than I having to put my 2 cents in.

Who is your musical director and how many musicians will be performing at the performances?

Virginia Sircy is our musical director and she is an experienced pianist and Professor of Music who holds three degrees in piano performance. She is also a founder and pianist for “Words and Music” a local professional performance group that presents both traditional and newly commissioned compositions in the vocal chamber music repertoire. She will be joined in our production band by a guitarist, bass and violin player and percussionist/marimba player. It’s really a lovely sound that will fill our space nicely.

Introduce us to your cast and tell us what solos they will be singing and what you admire most about their performances?

Our lovely cast is Katie McManus (“Sons of”,”No Love, You’re Not Alone”, “Timid Frieda”), John Loughney (“Alone”, “Statue”, “Funeral Tango”), Shaina Kuhn (“Marieke”, “My Death”, “Old Folks”) and Alan Naylor (“Amsterdam”, “Jackie”, “Next”). What I admire about my amazing cast is their versatility in their undertaking of this show that has such diverse story telling.

Laura Connors Hull. Courtesy of Creative Cauldron.
Co-Director Laura Connors Hull. Courtesy of Creative Cauldron.

What do you want young audiences to take with them after seeing Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris at Creative Cauldron?

Each experience will be a definite individual experience. Not everyone will laugh or cry at the same thing, but the human connection in this piece is undeniable and it will give people much to talk about.

In some ways, this production is an engaging history lesson. There are so many historical and cultural references in these songs from the 20th century and so many songs that resonate from Brel’s experience living through the World Wars. I think at the very least, this show will make young people more inquisitive about our past, and how it has informed our present day reality. Beyond this, I would just want young people to have the experience that everyone has– to laugh, to cry, to experience the passion.

Why do you think Brel’s music is still so popular?

Brel’s music is completely universal. Everyone lives, loves and dies. Brel happens to capture all of these and sometimes in just a single word.

Jacques Brel is still “alive and well” because he has made his way into our hearts. He reaches us and knows us like an old friend or lover knows us, in the deepest most intimate part of our selves.

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris plays through October 26, 2014 at Creative Cauldron- 410 South Maple Avenue, in Falls Church, VA. For tickets, call (703) 436-9948, or purchase them online.

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Joel Markowitz
Joel Markowitz is the Publisher and Editor of DCMetroTheaterArts. He founded the site with his brother Bruce to help promote the vast riches of theatre and the arts in the DC Metro area that includes Maryland, Virginia, and DC theater and music venues, universities, schools, Children's theaters, professional, and community theatres. Joel is an advocate for promoting the 'stars of the future' in his popular 'Scene Stealers' articles. He wrote a column for 5 years called ‘Theatre Schmooze’ and recorded podcast interviews for DC Theatre Scene. His work can also be seen and read on BroadwayStars. Joel also wrote a monthly preview of what was about to open in DC area theatres for BroadwayWorld. He is an avid film and theater goer, and a suffering Buffalo Bills and Sabres fan. Joel was a regular guest on 'The Lunch and Judy Show' radio program starring Judy Stadt in NYC. Joel founded The Ushers Theatre Going Group in the DC area in 1990, which had a 25-year run when it took its final curtain call last year. Joel is a proud member of The American Critics Association.

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