By Hayley Elston
MIHS’s spring musical takes center stage as the last show to play while Karen Campbell is head of the drama department. While this unique production is the finale to Campbell’s MIHS career, she is surprisingly not directing it. Nonetheless, Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris may be one of the most unique shows to grace MIHS’s stage—Campbell herself calls it “radically different.”
Jacques Brel is fundamentally different from most plays or even musicals: rather than having a storyline augmented by musical numbers, it is all songs and music with no storyline. Rather, each song tells its own story. This style of musical is known as a revue. The name refers to the French composer, Jacques Brel, and the show was initially written in France. First, Jacques Brel was big in 1950s Paris, but it came over to the U.S. in the 60s and enjoyed a good Broadway run. David Duvall, a friend of Campbell’s and a professional in the Seattle theatre scene—not to mention a highly regarded jazz pianist—recommended the show to Campbell and is directing Jacques Brel, with Campbell facilitating and remaining involved.
The cast of Jacques Brel has drawn quite a bit of interest. The revue is full of solos and thus requires powerful voices. 11 MIHS students, some in the Drama 2 class, some not, have been cast to take on the challenge. While almost everyone will have two or three solos, some cast members who can sing, but aren’t soloists, are in group numbers. Campbell says it’s “definitely an ensemble”, similar to the Threepenny Opera. In addition to MIHS’s talented performers, Jacques Brel features three adult professional actors. Campbell says the adult singers have been cast for both content reasons—gritty, unpleasant topics that are more effective when sung by adults—and the need for mature vocals. The pianist, Jim Fischer, is an adult professional. Joining Campbell are former choreographer at MIHS, Terence Kelley, and talented actress Karen Harp-Reed.
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris is sure to be a hit, but it’s also a personal milestone for Campbell. She has been performing in theatre since she sang on TV in Memphis at the age of six, and “hasn’t stopped since then”, putting on 300 shows in 40 years. Now, after 13 years, she is retiring. Campbell says she is pretty tired and couldn’t decide which show to do, choosing and re-choosing. She had a hard time, trying to decide what she hadn’t done, what would fit the kids and work with open auditions. As difficult as it is, Campbell knew she had to pull back and stop, saying “I don’t know how to do anything in a half-way.” Anyone who sees how dedicated Campbell is to every show she produces would certainly agree. Along with teaching drama 1 and improv, she directs shows and often works on multiple production elements such as the costumes and sets. With all the work she does, it’s not surprising Campbell says it feels weird to be seriously coming to terms with retiring. She adds that if she were to ever direct again, she would want to only direct. While Campbell’s feelings about retirement are bittersweet, Jacques Brel ensures she’ll go out with a bang.
Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris shows in MIHS’s Performing Arts Center May 5-7 and 12-14. Tickets are available from cast members, at both lunches and at Island Books.