Remember Tangi Colombel, the puckish, bald French performer whose American debut at Palm Beach Dramaworks 14 years ago in the Carbonell Award-winning musical, Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, that also earned him a Curtain Up Award as Outstanding New Performer?
It turns out he is alive and well and living in Palm Beach Gardens, having forged a lucrative career in voiceovers and translation, plus the occasional film and commercial. And now, for one weekend only, Nov. 9 to 11, he will be appearing in Pardon My French!, his own one-man cabaret – in English – of songs and jokes that will make the audience blush.
Since Jacques Brel, Colombel has appeared at Dramaworks in Les Liaisons Dangereuses and The Fantasticks, as well as entertaining at private parties, bars and restaurants. Of the latter, however, “they don’t listen to you or they barely listen to you,” he says. “So when that happens, you have to develop a sense of humor. So I would start making jokes, some of them would work, some wouldn’t work.” The good ones he began to write down, gathering enough material for a solo show.
As to his song selection, Colombel insists “I know which songs are appreciated by the American audience. I know they like them, because they applaud, you can hear them sigh.” He expects to sing such familiar French and faux-French fare as “C’est Magnifique,” “If You Go Away” and “Thank Heaven for Little Girls.” When in doubt, says Colombel, stick to the repertoire of Maurice Chevalier.
While Pardon My French! was designed for American tastes, Colombel has performed it in Japan and Korea and hopes to take it next August to the Edinburgh (Scotland) Theatre Festival. “Maybe my humor is universal,” he muses.
Not bad for a guy who left France and moved here 14 years ago barely speaking a word of English. Still, he was quickly cast in Jacques Brel and had to learn his English lyrics phonetically. All but adopted by cast members Avi Hoffman and Laura Turnbull (“my godfather and godmother in this business”), Colombel was soon appearing in their productions of The Apple Tree (as The Snake) and Fiddler on the Roof (as Russian cossack Fyedka).
Maybe it is his bald head, but the mild-mannered Colombel started being cast in bad guy roles. “On my first movie audition, I got cast in ‘Step Up Revolution,’ a movie about dance, They were looking for a ballet master, someone mean, and I auditioned and I got the part,” he says. “Since then I have gotten other roles as mean guys. I am being typecast, I guess. I’d like to do more of that.”
But for the moment, he is concentrating on making a cabaret show, his way. “I don’t want people to come expecting a very quiet evening with French songs and a little chat. I want them to be shocked, disturbed, but not in a bad way,” he says with a maniacal laugh.
As to making the audience blush at his jokes, “As I say in my show, because I am French, people will forgive me all the time. It’s like, ‘Oh, he said the “f” word, but he’s French, so it’s OK.’ So my brand of comedy is, shall we say, a little naughty. And I know that people like it.
“I’ve seen some cabaret and they’re dull. I want mine to pop. I want to show you guys what I can do. I can be a mean guy, but I can be a funny guy too, a charming guy.
“For the first time, I think, I use my life as material and I created something that looks like me, something that is me,” concludes Colombel. “That makes my show unique and refreshing and good and funny. People won’t be disappointed.”
PARDON MY FRENCH!, Lake Worth Playhouse Stonzek Theatre, 709 Lake Ave., Lake Worth. Friday, Nov. 9 to Sunday, Nov. 11. $25. 561-586-6410 or visit www.lakeworthplayhouse.org.