Jean Brassard & Steve Ross: Allons Enfants 2023: La Vie Est Belle

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Jean Brassard & Steve Ross

Allons Enfants 2023: La Vie Est Belle

Pangea, NYC, August 9, 2023

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg

A lovely tribute to the romantic city of Paris, told from both a Gallic and a Yankee viewpoint, was given an encore presentation at the supper club Pangea. The show included Frenchman Jean Brassard (who also directed), the very American Steve Ross, and as a special guest star, the exquisite Karen Akers, whose performance style straddles the two continents. The material they shared was equally varied; there were songs from both cultures as well as some that bridged the gap between the two. These three performers united to make the complex seem very easy; whether they were performing up-tempo tunes, ballads, dramatic torch songs or comedic numbers, the audience would never catch them sweating.

Brassard and Ross kicked off the show with a lively medley of “Qu’est-ce qu’on attend pour être heureux?” (André Hornez/Paul Misraki), “C’est si bon” (Hornez/Henri Betti), “Paris canaille” (Leo Ferre), and “Boum!” (Charles Trenet), setting the mood for the evening. Brassard explained the political background of “Dis-leur que l’on a’aime (Jacques Plante) and “J’aurais voulu danser (Pierre Delanoe/Frederick Loewe) Surprisingly, Ross didn’t mention Loewe’s contribution.) Then the two related the highly amusing story of how the Brazilian song “Tico Tico no fuba”  (Zequinha de Abreau) was transformed as it travelled from country to country and acquired refashioned lyrics in each language. Ross then offered a stunning version of “When the World Was Young” (Johnny Mercer/M. Philippe-Gerard) an emotional highlight of the evening.

Akers came to the stage for a dramatic “Dis, quand reviendras-tu?” (Barbara), and then was joined by Brassard for a highly theatrical duet of “À quoi ça sert l’amour? (Michel Emer, translated by Brassard) that essentially became a one-act play. Later in the evening, Akers delivered a brilliantly acted “Padam, padam” (Henri Contet/Norbert Glanzberg). One of the highlights of the evening came when the three artists joined together on a sexy “Un homme et une femme” (Pierre Barouh/Francis Lai), the theme from the classic film romance of the same name. Another surprise was the emotional substance of Brassard’s harmonica playing on a sweetly melancholic “Say When Will You Be Mine,” for which he wrote the English translation of Barbara’s “Dis, quand reviendras-tu?”

Brassard and Ross offered a gorgeous, and surprising, aria from Camille Saint-Saens’ opera  Samson et Delila. In complete contrast, they also offered a riotous “How You Gonna Keep ’Em Down on the Farm?” (Sam M. Lewis/Joe Young/Walter Donaldson). Then Ross, the maestro of the keys, offered several songs by the France-devoted American composer Cole Porter (and one of Ross’s most constant sources of melody) including a moving medley of “Who Said Gay Paree” and “You Don’t Know Paree,” and a delicious encore of his trademark “Can Can” with its endless reprises. As a celebration of French music, this evening was a triumph.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."