Alfredo Merat Channels Jacques Brel at Lulu

Mr. Merat has fully immersed himself in Brel and his music
Alfredo Merat is creating a theatrical event based on the life of Jacques Brel, a Belgian singer, songwriter, and actor.

Alfredo Merat is not standing still. Last Thursday, hours before he would resume a new, weekly residency at Lulu Kitchen and Bar in Sag Harbor, the musician excitedly shared plans to bring a vision to life in ways large and small. 

Outside his house in Springs sat a recently acquired recreational vehicle. Inside the house, guitars and ancillary musical equipment were everywhere, scattered among and between books and sheet music. All play an essential role in his upcoming plans. 

Last fall, Mr. Merat, who often plays at venues including Baron’s Cove in Sag Harbor and Sole East and Saltbox in Montauk, performed “Brel by Alfredo,” in which he channeled the spirit of Jacques Brel, the Belgian singer, songwriter, and actor who died in 1978, at Bay Street Theater, also in Sag Harbor. That performance, in which he sang in French and spoke about Brel’s life in English, coincided with the 50-year anniversary of Brel’s farewell concerts at the Olympia Theater in Paris, part of a long goodbye from live performances. 

The project sparked more ideas, and a collaboration with the director and producer Stephen Hamilton, who co-founded Bay Street Theater, and Randal Myler, the Tony and Drama Desk Award-nominated director whose credits include “Love, Janis,” a musical biography of Janis Joplin, and “Dream a Little Dream: The Mamas and the Papas Musical.” 

“We’re putting the concept together as far as this being more a theater play,” Mr. Merat said. “Hopefully, we’ll be done in the spring.” 

Mr. Merat, who was born in Madrid and grew up in France, has fully immersed himself in Brel and his music. Among the books scattered around his house are a comprehensive collection of biographies of Brel, an immensely popular artist in his time. He has contacted and corresponded with one biographer, is absorbing “a lot of insider information and anecdotes,” and has devoured and translated interviews, excerpts of which may be incorporated into the show. “Tell the story and sing the songs” is how he envisions it. 

Brel’s oeuvre struck a chord in him, he said, in part due to his upbringing in France. “Then, when I was young, I picked up a guitar around the time his songs were in my ear,” he said. More recently, “I was in Paris, and realized I wanted to revisit his work. My God, there’s so much good stuff in there.”

Subsequent to the October 2016 performance at Bay Street, Mr. Merat traveled to Cuba, a journey that unexpectedly added a new element to the project. With Cuban musicians in a Havana studio, he recorded 11 Brel songs, often in a unique interpretation. “They’re fun songs,” he said, “and I’m doing it my way, rearranging them, rediscovering some of them, thinking, ‘This would be great with salsa.’ ” 

“Alfredo Sings Brel,” the resulting CD, features, for example, two versions of “Le Moribond,” one a lush and dreamy bachata arrangement, the other an up-tempo salsa interpretation. 

“I want to break it here,” he said of the show, “meaning we’ll do the rehearsals and then the previews. This is not going to be a one-time show — at least, that’s the aim! We will start production, hopefully, this winter into spring.” After previews at a South Fork venue to be determined, he hopes to take it to Manhattan. “Hopefully, it takes on a life of its own,” he said. “I’m hopeful that there will be a market in Canada, France, England, Belgium, Morocco, because those are the places he performed, and he performed in French. But for now, we’ll run it here and see if it’s got legs.”

Simultaneous to this project, Mr. Merat began the weekly residency at Lulu, a consequence of performing there during the Sag Harbor American Music Festival, in September. The gig is serving as a kind of laboratory in which, depending on the circumstances, Mr. Merat alternates between performance as part of a duo or trio and experimenting with Brel’s music. “I was really happy when Lulu came along and invited me to do this,” he said. “They were very receptive and complimentary when I did the festival.” 

“The funny part is, while I’m doing this solo work I’m preparing for the bigger show,” he said. “Ultimately, the plan is to do the big show but also prepare something much smaller where I can tell the story in English as well, in between songs, or translate while the song is going.” 

Hence the recreational vehicle, in which he plans to travel extensively in 2018 and beyond. “When I go to New Orleans and other places, in some places I’ll have gigs,” he predicted, “but in some I’m going to wing it. That’s my plan.”