Across the street from Moulin Rouge lies a slice of understated elegance that is Brasserie Zedel. A short flight of stairs down, lies Crazy Coqs, a darkened art deco cabaret club that transports us back to the speakeasy time when diamonds were a girl's best friend. WE half expect Liza Minnelli or Édith Piaf to step onstage and perform a song that touches your very soul.
Certainly y’a d’la joie to be here
It is in this venue that Christopher Staines takes the stage with BOUM! C’est Chantastique, a cabaret that provides a redefinition of classic songs from the catalogues of Charles Trenet, Yves Montand and Jacques Brel; songs that make us laugh, cry and reflect on what it means to be alive. With new translations (and the occasional lyric) by Staines and accompanied on the piano by Jason Carr, this cabaret is a perfect mix and balance of all of its components; the English and French, comedy and solemnity, original and traditional. It’s a beautiful cabaret that comes together neatly, having enough of everything so at no point does it feel like soemthing is missing.
This cabaret is the culmination of Staines’ crusade to provide more accurate English translations of these classic chansons than the ones that came before and made famous by the likes of Bobby Darin. It’s clear when he’s telling us about these songs and their composers that they hold a special place in his heart, making the fact that he’s sharing them with us all the more special. He takes us from Sous le Ciel de Paris to La Mer, to the heart and soul in songs like J’arrive and Ne Quitte Pas, a journey that is interspersed with songs inspired by classic chansons but with an original twist, turning La Bicyclette into a mishap-filled holiday to Paris and his own self-parody in Chrissie, Staines’ salute to Jacque Brel’s La Chanson de Jackie.
Within the songs, Staines seamlessly switches between English to French and back, often within the same song, so we get to experience the songs in their original form whilst also giving us a form that we fully understand. He manages to infuse comedy in his performance, whether as part of his performance or in the background that he provides to us about them, all the while guiding us by the hand through these songs. But there are some things in this set that surpass language, and Staines communicates them extremely well, leaning into the intention behind the words. Staines’ voice is very well suited to these songs, and we get the impression that we are listening to a live performances of a golden age recording. If these songs are scratching beneath the surface of humanity, then Staines’ performance brings the scratchings into the light.
This cabaret is both for long-time fans of the chanson and for those discovering the style for the first time. It is one of the many things throughout the evening that Staines does well; he makes these songs accessible for everyone who wants to hear them. BOUM! C’est Chantastique is a nostalgic celebration of the chanson, and certainly y’a d’la joie to be here.