Concert Chamber - Town Hall, THE EDGE, Auckland

02/11/2012 - 24/11/2012

Theatre Royal, 78 Rutherford Street, Nelson

19/10/2013 - 20/10/2013

TV3 Crystal Palace, Tauranga

26/10/2013 - 27/10/2013

Mayfair Festival Club, 67-73 Devon St West, New Plymouth

27/08/2013 - 29/08/2013

James Cabaret, Hania Street, Wellington

26/02/2014 - 02/03/2014

Tauranga Arts Festival 2013

Taranaki International Arts Festival 2013

New Zealand Festival of the Arts 2014

Nelson Arts Festival 2013

Production Details


Silo is thrilled to announce the theatrical debut of two of New Zealand’s most revered musicians: Jon Toogood and Julia Deans, as they pay homage to the great JACQUES BREL, playing Auckland’s mighty Concert Chamber from November 1st.

Toogood and Deans are joined by celebrated singer/songwriter Tama Waipara and perhaps New Zealand’s First Lady of cabaret: the distinguished Jennifer Ward-Lealand. Four extraordinary music talents interpreting the genius that is Brel. Songs which tell stories about how life hurts, youth dies, understanding heals, love warms. His narratives portray people who are unwilling, in spite of all that they experience, to abandon either the joy of life or the hope that makes life worth living.

Along with a live four-piece band, this all-star cast set the stage for Silo’s cabaret noir; an atmosphere reminiscent of those smoky, dimly lit underground bars in New York and Berlin where the music flows as effortlessly as the old school charm and swagger.

Jacques Brel has long been considered a major influence in modern music; a revolutionary artist selling over 25 million records worldwide. His music, rich in mid-20th century European sensibility, remains timeless to this day – and its dark, sardonic, witty, style has been covered by hallowed musicians such as Cohen, Bowie, Sinatra, Simone, Wainwright… the list is near endless. If You Go Away (Ne Me Quitte Pas) has been covered by over 60 different recording artists worldwide since it was first written in 1959. 

Silo’s love affair with Brel isn’t new. In 2005, the company’s celebration of his work, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, sparked a box office frenzy and became one of the most successful productions in their history.

Things are a little different this time around, however. BREL is a new show created from scratch by Silo, with the songs carefully selected by the company. These timeless anthems brim with flair, attitude and heart-on-your-sleeve expressionism. As rearranged by the accomplished Leon Radojkovic, they become unique musical mash-ups, delivered live by members of “Balkan music titans” Dr. Colossus. The sheer musical poetry of each song supports layers of interpretation, and with this production Silo aims to reinterpret the songs for a contemporary audience.

Iconic talent Michael Hurst brings his seasoned theatrical experience to the directing chair, as Silo boasts perhaps its most eclectic and astounding collection of performers to grace the stage of a New Zealand theatre. Housed in the alluring confines of the historic Concert Chamber, table service and cabaret seating provide the ultimate group indulgence. 

This is Brel’s kaleidoscope of lives lived. It’s going to be loud. It’s going to be decadent. It’s going to be true.

“When you write a song, most of the words you use are in black and white, and then, from time to time, you use one that’s in colour. These words in colour are a part of ourselves, because we give them a meaning. If you like, we give them a third dimension.”JACQUES BREL 

BREL plays:
November 1st – 24th 2012
Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall, CBD
Monday – Tuesday at 7pm; Wednesday through Saturday at 8pm
OPEN DIALOGUE: Monday 5th November, 6pm
Tickets: $25.00 – $59.00 (service fees apply)
Tickets available through THE EDGE – 0800 BUY TICKETS or 

WHEN:  Tues 27 – Thurs 29 Aug 2013, 8pm 
WHERE:  Mayfair Festival Club 
DURATION:  115 minutes including interval 
ADMISSION (service fees apply)
Premium $45 | Premium Friend $39 | General Admission $39 
Buy tickets now here 

Tauranga Arts Festival
TV3 Crystal Palace
Saturday 26th October, 08:30pm
Sunday 27th October, 08:30pm

NZ Festival 2014 
James Cabaret, Hania Street
Wed 26 February – Sun 2 March
$63 – $68

Jon Toogood
Julia Deans
Jennifer Ward-Lealand
Tama Waipara

Theatre , Musical ,

1hr 55mins incl. interval

Finishes strongly

Review by Michael Gilchrist 27th Feb 2014

The undisputed genius that we encounter in the music of the Belgian chansonnier, Jacques Brel, is still, in many ways, an enigma. One way to understand his work is to place it in the surrealist tradition. That includes the surrealist visual imagination:  its ‘walls of flesh’; the world that revolves around the navel of the golden Fanette; the juxtapositions of the everyday and the dream worlds; the haunting excesses of imagery.

Equally important is the ethos of Revolt. Arguably, it is that spirit which presides over any other here. It is this that drives Brel to express feelings that often lie not just beyond convention but beyond consciousness, and to find the radical innovation, the critical difference, that arises out of repetition as opposed to construction. Combine that ethos with extraordinary melodic gifts and Brel is able to warp the European song tradition into something unique and truly revelatory. He does things with songs you never thought possible. 

Placing an artist on a pedestal is, of course, an ominous start to a review of a performance of that artist’s songs, even if the performance in question is by some of our finest local talent. Nevertheless, there is a more general artistic imperative at stake. Key works in the canon, like this one, have to be reimagined and reconceived if they are to survive their periodic replication.

This show, from its very conservative title onwards, does only just enough of that work to get by.  And it does just enough because the performers themselves do it. There is no statement of directorial vision in the programme and there is no real evidence of it onstage. There is reference on the Festival website to ‘cabaret noir’ coming to the James Cabaret. There is a theatre collective called ‘Cabaret Noir’ but I don’t know that there is any such thing as cabaret noir itself. There is the connotation of a thing. I do know that lampshades and chandeliers have proved fatal to sets before now and it is taking a risk to let them multiply beyond necessity, as seems to have happened here.   

In short, the first half of this show has all the hallmarks of a lack of direction and design, both dramatic and musical. Throw in some opening night nerves and it is feeling pretty thin. The songs are simply not dramatized to any significant extent, relying instead on the interpretive and technical skills of individual performers, with only a little ensemble work in support.

That is very demanding – for the band, as well as the vocal performers. Luckily all are of a very high standard. Even so, everyone needs help in bringing out the sense, shaping phrases and ensuring tempi are decisive. That is all the more so if you are switching codes as Julia Deans and Jon Toogood are doing.

The ever luminous Jennifer Ward-Lealand stands out – her renditions of ‘Marieke’ and ‘Ne me quitte pas’ (in the second half) are passionate and beautiful, exquisite even. Technically she can be breathtaking – it’s something in her musical diction. There isn’t quite the surrealist excess or hypnotic lilt that can come through in these songs but, on the other hand, that is not something it is always wise to attempt without an overall vision in play.  

The second half is a big step up from the first, with some dramatization, much more ensemble work and a much better sense of purpose. Jon Toogod comes into his own with ‘Next!’ the marvellously dysphoric account of a young man’s sexual initiation in an army brothel. He is a charismatic, wonderfully energised performer and he does enough to show that he could be at least as exciting in musical theatre as he has been in rock and roll.

The same can be said for Julia Deans who has an outstanding vocal endowment.  My comments above still apply however. It is only right at the end of the show, with some rock rhythms, that we hear the kind of excitement Deans is capable of when she is precisely in tune with the style.

Tama Waipara is a gifted singer and his rendering of ‘Fanette’, in particular, gives us an idea of the luxuriant potential of this song. 

Brel! finishes strongly and I expect it will continue to strengthen as the season continues. The level of the performers is simply outstanding and if you know the songs of Jacques Brel or are getting to know them, you won’t want to miss it.


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All singers portray standout moments

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 27th Feb 2014

The intimate and cabaret- like atmosphere of James Cabaret is an ideal venue for Silos Theatre’s exhilarating and vibrant show Brel: The Words and Music of Jacques Brel.

On a stage littered with 1960s’ furniture and a sultry picture of the man himself dragging on a cigarette at the back of the stage, four musicians and four singers pump out the songs and music of the most influential European musicians of the 1960s. [More


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An extraordinary experience

Review by Nyree Sherlock 28th Oct 2013

Belgium-born Jacques Brel remains an enormously influential singer/songwriter; his compositions cover a vast range of themes, encompassing the entire spectrum of human emotion. Brel validated stories from the fringe: the anti-hero; the pimps and prostitutes; the winners and the losers. All in all, his compositions unashamedly celebrate both the absurdity and the joy of the human condition. His vocals were unique and often guttural, his delivery was animated with a taut manic-magnetism, and – like his contemporary Edith Piaf – he lived within each and every moment of his songs: emotionally, physically, and psychologically. 

With this in mind, I hoped to experience some of Brel’s visceral intensity in Silo Theatre’s latest production: The Words and Music of Jacques Brel. All expectations were fulfilled as I became entranced by the collective and individual performances of the cast, along with the exquisite harmonies, and beautiful arrangements delivered by the four excellent backing musicians.

This inspired collaboration between magnificent chanteuse Jennifer Ward-Lealand, multi-talented musician Tama Waipara, indefatigable rock singer/songwriter Jon Toogood (The Adults, Shihad), and the outstanding Julia Deans (The Adults, Fur Patrol), truly capture the essence of Brel’s musical poetry.

The standout elements for me are: Toogood’s fervent rendition of ‘Amsterdam,’ where he becomes the song, exuding the animal magnetism of Brel himself; Ward-Lealand’s scintillating (French) interpretation of the timeless/multi-layered Ne Me Quitte Pas; Waipara’s dynamic (French) rendition of Fanette, which fills the room with his sublime and resonating baritone; and finally, Deans’ spell-binding rendition of the haunting ‘Songs for Old Lovers.’

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the songs we love; Silo Theatre’s dedication to The Words and Music of Jacques Brel is an extraordinary experience, and one that fully celebrates Brel’s passion and genius.


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Sometimes cruel, sometimes funny, always captivating

Review by Keran Brady 20th Oct 2013

The Words and Music of Jacques Brel carries the audience back to Europe in the 1960s. Smoke wafts from the stage which is lit up with different styles of lamps.  These are lit at different times throughout the performance.  The smoky atmosphere and half lit musicians evoke an intimate and intriguing cabaret setting.  So, with the atmosphere set, all that’s needed is the singers and musicians to fill the split level musical spaces. 

First the lead guitarist – Abraham Kunin, then keyboards – Robin Kelly, bass – Cass Mitchel and drummer – Tom Broome enter; the lights dim and the singers enter.  The show opens with one of Brel’s best known songs, ‘Jackie’, swiftly followed by another and another. 

Many are old favourites, some in French, German, English or a combination.  The singers – Tama Waipara, Julia Deans, Jennifer Ward-Lealand and Jon Toogood – perform to a very high standard, delightfully capturing the soul and pathos of Brel’s sense of tragedy.  The audience is seductively drawn in to the tale at the heart of every song, each its own mini epic: sometimes cruel, sometimes funny, always captivating.  

Perhaps Toogood’s rendition of ‘Amsterdam’, could have had a little more edge – after all it is perhaps Brel’s best known and loved tale; a rough and bawdy song, which is seamless if a little clean. 

Ward Lealand’s haunting portrayal of ‘If You Go Away’, in French, beautifully captures the sadness of being left alone.  Dean’s impressive range and speed showcases the song ‘Carousel’; her ballads cause this listener to close her eyes and be carried into the world of love and loss Brel so accurately wrote about. 

I would have liked to have been sitting in a less formal setting, with an opportunity to be physically immersed among the performers for some of the pieces.  The Theatre Royal is a beautiful venue but Brel’s work would surely respond to a more intimate setting, to really transport the audience to its origins.  The set design excellently allows for shadows and darkness, enabling the singers to hide and watch each other.  They often dance and interact, which is a delight to enjoy. 

My favourite is Tama Waipara, whose voice and emotional range inspires the listener to believe his predicament whether he’s singing in French or English.  His cheeky smile and soulful eyes are the perfect instrument to pull us all into the words and music of Brel’s work, which loses none of its sparkle. 

The humour is infectious, especially in Julia Dean’s ballad where she is swearing undying love throughout the song only to ask his name at the end. 

This is a not to be missed show as the performances from singers and musicians alike are faultless in their execution. It is a delight and a privilege to hear these songs so enigmatically enacted and so full with life. 

Jane Hakaraia’s set is complemented by Sean Lynch’s lighting which does add to the atmosphere and focus of all the music.


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Delights for the ears and eyes and balm for the soul

Review by Ngaire Riley 28th Aug 2013

I was introduced to Jacques Brel at an earlier Taranaki International Arts Festival by a delicious Belgium singer called Micheline van Hautem. 

This time Brel is shared by four edgy singers and four passionate musicians. Most of the lyrics are in English which is a lovely surprise and the crisp diction and melodic arrangements make the evening an absolute treat.  What a sumptuous evening; delights for the ears and eyes and balm for the soul. 

The man who inspired the show, Brel, is a Belgian singer-songwriter (1929 – 1978), “who composed and performed literate, thoughtful, and theatrical songs” says Wikipedia. His laments and ballads and acerbic observations of life, in music, are sometimes quite European-gypsy (think WOMAD) and sometimes quite Kurt Weill (think 1930s Brecht).  

Brel’s wry view of life is shared in English in this concert.  Sometime during the evening I think of Leonard Cohen. He must have been inspired by Brel.  Phrases like “They kill each other willingly”, “I hold my breath against this whole family, always ready for death, but I’m ready to dance and my heart glows like the sun” and “but we never learn until it’s too late” continue to resonate in today’s world. He combines strongly personalised images with universal observations of human nature and relationships: “you can’t let changes pass you by” and “you kissed my mouth with promises, you bound me with your love” … but the song ends on “I’ve forgotten your name”.

What’s so good about this Silo production is that all aspects work so well together. The singers are strong and edgy, particularly Julia Deans and Jon Toogood who seem to perfectly fit the smoky scene lit with retro lampshades and lighting that mainly catches profiles.

Like all aspects of the show, the lighting enhances and enriches the changing moods of the songs. At one stage Deans and Jennifer Ward-Lealand share a duet upstage, in a moon spotlight to the silhouette of a man in our foreground. It is strong and simple and powerful. Despite a tight space to work in, the singers find different worlds to sing from. 

The arrangement of the program is very pleasing, with more solo and soulful songs in the first half and more quartet, full band and popular songs in the second half which opened with a polyphonic ‘Carousel’ and finished with ‘Le Moribond’: I’m going to die but “I want you all to laugh and to dance like a bunch of crazies when they put me in the hole.”

Congratulations to Leon Radojkovic for his exciting orchestration and musical direction and the superb musicianship of Radojkovic, Abraham Kunin, Jonathan Burgess and Simon Walker.

This is a performance to slip into your busy life. And when you have idle moment catch Brel on You Tube. You won’t be disappointed with either.


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Big performances in updated emotive story songs

Review by Janet McAllister 05th Nov 2012

Post-war songwriter Jacques Brel – an inspiration for the likes of Leonard Cohen and David Bowie – wrote punchy, intense stories-in-melody which are well-suited to a theatrical presentation such as this. His lyrics range from sentimental to harsh, and Silo Theatre has created an engaging showcase of 22 songs, emphasising Brel’s tug on the heartstrings. 

Director Michael Hurst and musical director/orchestrator/pianist Leon Radojkovic have chosen not to slavishly follow Brel tradition. The accordion is replaced with electric guitar, updating the sound and moving the cultural atmosphere from Belgium towards the United States. Some songs are smoothed into syrup; backing vocalists occasionally sound and move like 1960s doo-wop girls, sometimes ironically, sometimes incongruously (the era is Brel’s, the aesthetic is not). The usually hesitant Ne Me Quitte Pas zips along allegretto.

The styling – warm orange-glow lampshades, mod make-up and a gogo mini for Jennifer Ward-Lealand – subtly suggests a 1960s lounge cabaret. A portrait of Brel dragging on a cigarette is the only backdrop (he died of lung cancer at age 49). [More]  


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Bold, loud, emotionally raw

Review by Vanessa Byrnes 03rd Nov 2012

Jacques Brel, that Belgian song master of dynamic lyrics coupled with rough melodies who’s been covered by so many over the years, is now brought powerfully to life with verve and glamour by this excellent team. This is slick and emotional, rough and polished, wild and tame.

This gutsy, spinal, oppositional experience of chanteuse brilliance plays until 24 Nov in the exceptionally well-lit Town Hall Concert Chamber. Silo have created a show that channels bleeding-heart ‘Kurt Weill-meets-New York underground-‘Cabaret Noir’.’ This is musical theatre for grown-ups. 

The dance of opposites is the playing game here and Michael Hurst’s fine direction honours the dramatic potential of that in every aspect of his cast and crew. Men and women, love and pain, life and death, sound and silence, ecstasy and horror, intimacy and violence all exist without preamble or disdain.

Brel himself lived a life of contrasts; he was married with children but had mistresses, and reputedly had calm order at home but wildness in the larger world. And of course from a safe middle-class upbringing he became the voice of passionate Parisian working-class experience.

As his myriad of songs reflect, Brel found love to be the most painful aspect of living. Anyone who has loved or lost will find deep connection with this material. The work is brought gorgeously to life by Hurst and an eclectic mix of performers, as if invoking the random meetings of strangers all looking for connection in a dark German nightclub.

Occasionally I wanted more interaction between the characters, in spoken form, to employ more backstory and narrative. However the songbook can also provide that reading; as Hurst has suggested, this show is “a cross between a concert and a recording session combining the talents of a disparate range of performers”[1] so the songs really do stand for themselves. 

Brel himself was an infamously passionate, raw performer, bringing every uncooked emotion to singing (sometimes almost speaking/intoning) the text along with wild gestural articulation. Four consummate performers sing the 22 songs (mostly in excellent English translations) without spoken text linking them.

Shihad’s Jon Toogood is an inspired choice to channel such emotion in song. He’s a Brel rocket, all over the reworked rock grunt of ‘Amsterdam’, the seething sexual pain of ‘Next’ and the zippy comedy of ‘Girls and Dogs’.

The eternally statuesque Jennifer Ward-Lealand is equally inspiring. Raw, truthful and elegant, Ward-Lealand brings emotional truth to songs like ‘My Childhood’, ‘Marieke’ and ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’, a particularly twisted little number given its full glory here. She supports every other player, too, with such sensitivity.

Next to this – like a strong beaujolais on a Parisian park bench – Julia Deans knows how to hit the musical spot. She pitches every song perfectly and entices our enjoyment of the painful clarity inherent in Brel’s lyrics. ‘Songs for Old Lovers’, ‘Timid Frieda’ and ‘No, Love, You’re Not Alone’ (duet with Ward-Lealand) are highlights that really show off her lyrical talent.

And Tama Waipara brings rugged masculinity to the texture of the overall piece. ‘Jackie’, ‘Ces Gens-La’ and the stunner ‘Fanette’ are given passionate, truthful yearning by Waipara.

The combined sexuality of this cast of four is palpable. Brilliant casting.

Leon Radojkovic’s musical direction is to be credited for the eclectic mix of styles on display. The songs are intelligently rearranged here to reflect a 2012 sensibility that has no time for sentimentality or romance. The arrangements are clear and truthful, often building to a fevered climax. Four musicians (Radojkovic, Abraham Kunin, Jonathan Burgess and Simon Walker) flash the space with an incredibly full sound.

Production design by Jana Hakaraia and Sean Lynch is beautiful, invoking a lamp-filled, smoky, half-lit cabaret atmosphere that befits the Concert Chamber. The space is beautifully lit. With a portrait of Brel upstage right languidly enjoying a cigarette – the sweet vice that killed him – we’re reminded that life is to be enjoyed with passionate enjoyment, even if it slays us.

This work has a spine, and for that reason alone I think Silo have another Brel hit on their hands. It makes no apologies for placing Brel’s superb lyrics at the forefront of the experience. Bold, loud, emotionally raw. My kind of musical.


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