When Francoise Hardy meets Brel

Cat Simoni pays tribute to French ’60s pop star Francoise Hardy in her new show at Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre in Umbilo.

STAGE: Francoise Hardy, Ooh La La – Rhumbelow Theatre, Umbilo, Durban

SIXTIES French pop star Francoise Hardy and prolific songwriter Jacques Brel are not known to have been close pals or potential lovers, but they are imagined to have been so in the new music revue slotting in at Durban’s Rhumbelow Theatre in Umbilo this coming weekend.

Francoise Hardy, Ooh La La, first staged last Sunday (October 8) at the Rhumbelow’s Pietermaritzburg branch at the Allan Wilson Shellhole, would have been better titled Francoise and Jacques, as there is a lot of Brel in this production.

That fact, however, is not a disappointment at all – the flow of the late Brel’s classics and breathy hits associated with the now-73-year-old Hardy make for a fine mix in a nicely flowing production.

The show highlights the talents of charming pianist and acoustic guitarist Cat Simoni, a Rhumbelow theatre favourite, and Cat’s manager and the devisor and director of her many tribute shows, Paul Spence, who appears as Brel.

I have often found Spence, constantly on the move and fiddling about with things, a bit of a showy intrusion on Cat’s performances. However, as a legitimate part of this show he does well with a selection of songs that includes Marieke, The Port of Amsterdam, Carousel, Brussells and the amusing The Bulls among Belgian Brel’s theatrical and thoughtful offerings.

It’s Simoni, however, as girl-next-door-type Hardy, who effortlessly steals the limelight, wrapping her versatile voice around such favourites as Find Me a Boy, which opens the show, and the bigger hits Only Friends, Another Place, All Over the World, Only You Can Do It and Catch a Falling Star.

The show unfolds with Spence first on stage to announce that he is Joe, the American host of a celeb-packed Parisian nightclub in the 1960s, where we, the audience, are “the in crowd” and where, after a performer fails to arrive for a gig, an unknown Francoise Hardy (Simoni) steps forward to offer to fill in.

After a few songs, Joe heads off to try to find a record company contact he can interest in the exciting new vocal talent he has untapped. Then Spence reappears, in black leather jacket and cap, to play Brel, a songwriter and singer who died in 1978, aged 49.

The nudge-wink sexual innuendo and sharing of songs between Brel and Hardy pull the focus of a very enjoyable show that highlights all the Hardy hits. Also on the songlist are As Time Goes By, If You Go Away, The Way of Love, The Windmills of Your Mind, If We Only Had Love and as a surprise finale item, an amusing rendition of the once-banned J’Taime Moi Non Plus, a 1969 hit for Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin.

Francoise Hardy, Ooh La La has performances at the Umbilo Rhumbelow Theatre at 8pm on Friday and Saturday (October 13 and 14) and at 2pm and 6.30pm on Sunday (October 15). Tickets cost R150 and can be booked at Computicket or by phoning Roland at 082 499 8636.

Note that seating at the theatre is at tables of eight, and one can take along a picnic, but must buy beverages at the venue’s pub. Light meals and snacks (great cheesecake) can be bought at the theatre.

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