Most Recent Reviews of The Shadow of Brel – Artsmart Review


Rhumbelow Theatre, Umbilo: 28 – 30 May & 4 – 6 June 2010

Reviewed by Charlotte Fairfax

 One of musical theatre’s most astonishing talents, Cape Town’s Godfrey Johnson, presents a masterful programme of the music of Jacques Brel at the Rhumbelow Theatre in Umbilo last weekend, and again next weekend in The Shadow of Brel.

The music of Brel features in the first half, and a mix of some of Johnson’s favourite interpretations of well known tunes comprise the second act.

Johnson was put on this earth to perform Brel. He understands the amazing depth of emotion needed to portray the complexity of Jacques Brel’s musical genius.

Johnson is one of the most astounding performers. His voice is heartbreakingly beautiful; his delivery is effortless, and his piano playing is intense and inspired.  Seated alone on bare stage facing the audience playing the piano while barely glancing at the keyboard; he presents a carefully-chosen repertoire of beautiful music that he performs with minimal banter. He takes his audience on an unexpected emotional musical journey allowing the mastery of the music and the power of the lyrics to sneak under your skin.

 With a sparkle in his eye, mischievous grin and a particularly un-showy white shirt and tie, Johnson looks more like the love-child of a pixie and a banker than a world class performer. Free of pretentions, with no costume changes or special effects, one feels a vulnerability and sense of cosiness – as though Johnson is playing especially for you in the quiet comfort of your lounge at home.

 The first act comprises 16 of Jacques Brel’s most celebrated numbers performed in English. One is reminded of Brel’s ability to elicit an amazing breadth of emotions with his lyrics – sometimes raw and angry, then minutes later funny and tender. Listening to Brel is like watching a beautiful woman – you admire the sumptuous gown, then notice her tatty petticoat and grubby fingernails.

 Johnson’s dives in the deep-end by opening with the beautiful, gritty and dark Amsterdam.  Without exception every song is beautiful – but worthy of special mention are the iconic Carousel performing with lighting speed making the audience breathless and dizzy; the achingly beautiful ballad If You Go Away and the sublime declaration of love, Songs of Old Lovers.

I particularly enjoyed the tragic Alone, the fast and deceptively jolly Brussels and the gentle ballad Fanette – performed as delicately as watching a tango danced on the tip of an icicle.    

The mood shifts somewhat in the second half with a dozen quirky interpretations of familiar songs.
His act two repertoire includes a delicious rendition of Cell Block Tango from Chicago with fun local references; the light and witty Masculine and Feminine; Noel Coward’s saucy Nina; a fun version of Chris de Burgh’s 70s hit, Patricia the Stripper; a tongue-in cheek reworking of Madonna’s iconic hit Like a Virgin; a pared down version of Cyndi  Lauper’s Girls Just Want to Have Fun and a super-fast Minute Waltz.

Personal favourites were one of Johnson’s own compositions Lady In Blue, and the show’s finale, Tori Amos’s Winter.  

The Shadow of Brel won’t be everybody’s cup of absinthe. It takes listening, focus and concentration. Last Sunday evening’s audience embraced the show completely – you could hear a pin drop. Expected to be transported, challenged and enveloped – not merely entertained. This is musical theatre for grown- ups.

The Shadow of Brel is performed by Fleur du Cap winner Godfrey Johnson, directed by Sanjin Muftic and produced by Cape Town’s Yawazzi theatre productions. It is the fourth musical collaboration between Johnson and Muftic.

It plays at the Rhumbelow theatre in Umbilo:

FRIDAY          4 June    Show starts 20.00                  

SATURDAY    5 June    Show starts 20.00

SUNDAY         6 June    Show starts 14:00

SUNDAY         6 June    Show starts 18.30

Venue opens 90 minutes before show for picnic dinner or braais                

R 100-00 a ticket; limited secure parking available; Booking is essential.  

Bar Available – no alcohol be brought on to the premises.

Book at Computicket or phone or email Roland for bookings H  2057602 / Cell 0824998636 / email /