Brilliant one-man French musical
Michael Reckord, Gleaner Writer
Assisted by the French embassy in Jamaica - including French ambassador M. Marc-Olivier Gendry, who welcomed the audience - the Alliance Francaise presented a most unusual musical at the Theatre Place, Haining Road, last Saturday afternoon.
Musicals usually have large casts, whereas this one was performed by one man, French comedian-singer Frederick Strouck. He spoke and sang in French, but the few in the audience who claimed ignorance of the language were not discommoded for, as Strouck performed, his words, translated into English, were projected onto a large screen behind him.
Also projected were the images of French and American city and countryside scenes. These made the musical into something of a travelogue, but the beauty of the scenes compensated for the absence of costumes and pretty set.
Occasionally, the translated words and scenes appeared earlier than they should have, but there were few other technical problems in the show. Few things could go wrong, so simple was the production.
Titled Parlez-vous Français? (Do you speak French?) and written by Strouck and playwright-composer Gregory Blot-Rudolph, the production requires a minimal amount of furniture, a recorded score, a projector and a single performer. It is ideal for touring.
Because the usual paraphernalia of a musical - the fancy costumes, elaborate sets, dancing girls, etcetera - are absent from this show, its success depends almost entirely on the talents and energy of the performer.
Fortunately, Strouck has both by the bucketful and he thoroughly entertained the large audience. They were laughing, applauding, and occasionally singing along through the hour and 20 minute-long show.
Moving constantly around the small stage, from white board on an easel at stage right, to desk with books downstage, to sofa at stage left, Strouck told and sang the story of his character's love affair with American culture and relationships with two Americans.
Strouck has a good voice and the 15 or so songs he sang were pleasing. Among them were Michelle, If It Takes Forever, I've Cried Enough, Let It Be Me, The Windmills of Your Mind, What Now My Love and My Way. He never changed his 'costume', a dark suit and greenish shirt, though once he briefly donned a beret.
The character he played, Michael George, grows up in France but gets to know and love the USA through American pop songs and television programmes, primarily the soaps — Dallas, Dynasty, Melrose Place and the like.
As a young man in his late teens he gets a chance to visit relatives in America and is initially awed by the size of some things, like the cars and houses, and the quantity of others - like the televisions sets in every room and the restaurants on every corner. He commented, wryly though, that there seemed to be restaurants from every country in the world - even Jamaica - except France.
He meets and falls in love with a young neighbour, Michelle. He woos her with tales of France and they have an affair.
Both are heartbroken when he has to return home, but though he sends her records and cassettes with French music and writes numerous letters, there is no response from her. He throws himself into studying and becomes a teacher.
When work does not provide relief from his heartache, he has short-lived affairs with many French girls. Still, no use, he can't forget Michelle and he decides to return to America to see her.
But, just then, as he turns 30, he receives a letter from Michelle's family. She has died and left him a son, Kevin, and the family want Michael George to come for the boy.
Michael George does go for Kevin, who is entering his teens and getting rebellious, and in America he learns why he had not heard from Michelle before she died. Her parents had kept all the letters and gifts sent from France away from her.
Bringing up Kevin presents challenges but Michael George finds a way to his son's heart - through his stomach - and often cooks French meals for Kevin. When father and son holiday in France, Kevin falls in love with a French girl, Dominique, and soon the family expands.
The story ends happily, with the family spending time together in America, France or Jamaica. The final song, My Way, earned Strouck tremendous applause.