Grand tour

A Musical Journey with The Songs of Jaques Brel, Kurt Weill and Charles Aznavour

Starring Vickie Phillips
Book and direction by Bob Ost
Music and lyrics by Jacques Brel, Kurt Weill and Charles Aznavour
Musical direction by Gerry Dieffenbach
Midtown International Theatre Festival
Where Eagles Dare Theatre
Non-union production (closed)
Review by Charles Battersby

A Musical Journey... appeared at last year's Midtown International Theatre Festival, and this summer it returned with quite a few tweaks, making it an even more entertaining experience. For those who haven’t seen previous incarnations, A Musical Journey is a one-woman show starring Vickie Phillips, who sings the songs of some of the 20th century’s finest composers, Jaques Brel, Kurt Weill and Charles Aznavour. It’s a heartfelt tribute to this trio of creators, and a joy to experience.

Those who did see earlier incarnations of A Musical Journey will have noted that this time around the show had a more strongly defined narrative structure, with more monologs between the songs, making Phillips as much a storyteller as she was a singer. It was still very much in the style of a cabaret show, but now it was equally at home on a theatre’s stage. In her monologs, Phillips introduced each composer with a personal anecdote about herself as she ventured through Europe, exploring the cities that defined these men. The tone weas reverent and conjuring, as Phillips shared her love of these composers with the audience.

Although there were more spoken-word pieces, some of the music was cut from previous versions of the show, including all the songs by Eric Blau. While this limited the piece to the three composers, there was still more than enough there for an evening of song.

Phillips was accompanied by Jerry Dieffenbach, who provided plenty of cabaret-style banter during the songs, and nailed his own number when he sang his solo piece. Dieffenbach and Phillips had an excellent chemistry together, particularly when Dieffenbach was firing witty quips between lyrics. Joining Phillips and Dieffenbach for this incarnation was an accordion player who appeared after a few numbers, lending a soulful sound to the piece.

Director Bob Ost got a lot of mileage out of the smallish stage. The few set pieces scattered around were all there for a reason, such as the trunk placed upstage center, ready to be packed for its journey, or the small step right in front of Dieffenbach’s keyboard, allowing Phillips and Dieffenbach to share some intimate exchanges for a few numbers. On the right wall was a hat-rack draped with feather boas and a few hats. At the start of each song, Phillips would take a prop or costume piece from the rack and wear it during the song, packing it away in the trunk at the end of the number, furthering the journey theme. Lighting design (Ginny Hack) was very well-planned-out, hitting Phillips with soft spotlights during the quieter numbers, and flooding the stage with a sanguine red for "Mac The Knife." This design worked well with Phillips’s twinkly costume in the second act.

A Musical Journey… will certainly be back in future incarnations, and it’s something that must be seen by fans of Weill, Brel, or Aznavour. It’s also an excellent way for people who aren’t too familiar with these composers to learn more about them.

Box Score:

Writing: 1/Music: 2/Lyrics: 2
Directing: 2
Performance: 2
Set: 1
Costumes: 1
Lighting/Sound: 1

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Copyright 2005 Charles Battersby