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University of Iowa News Release


July 10, 2009

UI Opera Theater brings 'Jacques Brel' to the Englert July 24-26

The University of Iowa Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater will present the musical review "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" as its summer production, with performances at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, July 24 and 25, and 2 p.m. Sunday, July 26, in the Englert Theater in downtown Iowa City.

First performed in 1968, "Jacques Brel" features songs by the Belgian-born cabaret singer in English translations by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman. The UI production will feature a cast of student singers directed and choreographed by guest artist Bill Theisen.

Musical direction will be by UI alumnus Bill Bentler. Scene and costume design are by Margaret Wenk-Kuchlbauer of the UI Division of Performing Arts Production Unit.

The original production of "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" played to sold-out houses at the Village Gate Theater in New York's Greenwich Village for four years. It has had successful productions in London, Johannesburg, Toronto, Sydney, Copenhagen and other cities around the world, and a successful New York off-Broadway revival in 2006.

Reviewing that production, New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood described Brel's characteristically Parisian music as "songs heavily steeped in nostalgia . . . Songs of romance tinted darkly with reflections on death . . . Songs that begin as wistful laments for lost youth . . . Songs that sound French even when they are being sung in English."

What makes the review so attractive for audiences worldwide, Isherwood wrote, is "Brel's unmistakably Gallic sensibility, a potent mixture of romanticism and cynicism, world-weariness and jaunty whimsy. In the darkling world conjured by his songs, the joys of love are rich but fleeting, life is a mad but dangerous waltz, [and] 'death waits like an old roué.'"

As a review, "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well" does not have named roles. Student singers for the production will be Brian Dykes, Kaitlin Galetti, Allison Holmes, Paul Morel, Vivien Shotwell and Chaz'men Williams-Ali. Vocal preparation is by Shari Rhoads, coach-accompanist for the Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater.

Theisen wrote in his director's notes for the production, "The French 'Cabaret Song' is a unique form of music. Edith Piaf, Charles Aznavour, Brel and others literally painted with words and music the existential world they saw.

"In this show, each song strips away a facade and reveals a sometimes humorous, sometimes sad, sometimes bitter truth. These are songs of joy and sorrow, of things remembered and things that never were, of the lust for life and the meaninglessness of death . . . and lastly, these are songs about love -- always about love. 'If We Only Have Love,' asserts Brel, 'we can build a new world.'"

Tickets for "Jacque Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" are $20, $5 for UI students with ID, $10 for youth and $15 for seniors. Tickets are available from the Englert Box Office, 221 E. Washington St. in downtown Iowa City. The box office is open 1-6 p.m. Monday through Friday. For phone orders or additional ticket information call the box office at 319-688-2653.

Originally from Milwaukee, Theisen made his professional theatre debut in "The Mikado" in 1981. Since then he has worked as a freelance performer and director for theatre and opera companies throughout the United States and Canada. He was artistic director of Milwaukee's Skylight Opera Theatre, where he continues to serve as guest director. He has served as a guest director of opera at the UI, staging productions of Mozart's "The Magic Flute" and "La Boheme."

Other university work took place at Carnegie Mellon University, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Portland State University, St. Ambrose University, Manhattan School of Music, Utah State University, Northwestern University and the University of Louisville.

Margaret Wenk-Kuchlbauer is the resident designer for the UI Division of Performing Arts Production Unit. Since 1980 she has designed scenery and costumes for most UI Opera Theater Productions and UI Dance Galas as well as a variety of shows for the UI Theatre Department and Iowa Summer Rep. Recent design contributions to the Martha Ellen Tye Opera Theater include "La Boheme," "Trial by Jury" and "Viva La Mamma."

Bentler graduated from the UI in May with a degree in voice performance. He has worked as musical director/conductor for "It's a Wonderful Life," "Ragtime" and "Phantom of the Opera" at Chicago's Porchlight Musical; City Circle's "Gypsy" and "The Music Man" in Iowa City; and University Theatres' production of "Into the Woods."

The mission of the Englert Civic Theatre, Inc., is to own, maintain and operate the Englert Theatre as a community arts center and performance space, enhancing the vitality of Iowa City's historic downtown by preserving its last historic theater. Visit the Englert's Web page at

The Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater and the School of Music are units of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to and click the link "Join or Leave ACR News," then follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Peter Alexander, 319-384-0072 (office) 319-541-2846 (cell),