Charles Aznavour: graceful master of moods and rhythms
New York — For the second time in two weeks, a major French cultural export has taken over a Broadway stage. Within a few days after Marcel Marceau and his teeming world of silence had moved into the Belasco, singer-composer-actor Charles Aznavour began filling the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre with the sounds of his particular music. In a program combining new songs with favorites that drew anticipatory applause, Aznavour launched an eight-week North American tour with a limited Broadway engagement. It is his first such visit in three years and coincides with the release of his new album, ''Aznavour,'' sung completely in English.
The mood of the program's first half is predominantly melancholy and minor-key. The feeling is projected in the intensely expressed song-stories and commentaries of ''Le Temps,'' ''In Your Room,'' and ''I Didn't See the Time Go By.'' ''Happy Anniversary'' strikes a lighter but ironic note, with its offbeat piano counterpoint. Here Aznavour creates the portrait of a long-married man whose waiting game is the price of being wedded to a tardy wife. He ends the bittersweet account with a mischievous smile.
Throughout the evening, Aznavour moves back and forth easily between French and English. He provides a brief English translation for the deeply felt ''Nous n'avons pas d'Enfant,'' which he then sings in French. The same is true with ''Les Comediennes,'' a song about the strolling companies of actors who play in public squares. Later on, before beginning ''La Boheme,'' in which a successful painter revisits the Montmartre of his struggles and obscurity, Aznavour observes that ''French is the only language for the struggling artist.''
''La Boheme'' was greeted on opening night with the applause reserved for favorites from past Aznavour appearances and from his many recordings. The opening-night audience thus welcomed numbers like ''She,'' ''Ave Maria,'' and the catchy waltz, ''The Old-Fashioned Way.''
The singer-composer (sometimes in collaboration with other writers) demonstrates his mastery of mixed moods and rhythms in compositions such as ''Take Me Along,'' with its thrashing beat; the delightful ''Isabelle''; the mocking ''Mon Ami - Mon Judas,'' a satire about sponging friends; and the poignant ''Mon emouvant amour,'' which concerns a man in love with a deaf-mute. As part of the action, the singer delivers some of the lyrics in sign languge.
Aznavour performs his one-man show informally and with consummate simplicity. With a small, lithe figure, he wears a black suit and shirt - a costume embellished for his first entrance by a bright red scarf which he soon doffs. His body language is deft and economical. He deals gracefully and humorously with members of the string orchestra, an ensemble that includes three backup girl singers. The musical direction is by Aldo Frank.
As a production, the Aznavour show is marred only by the restless distractions created by Maurice Giraud's excessively changing light patterns and by Robert Kerzman's strident amplification system, with its virtual lack of regard for nuances or softer tones.
At the conclusion of his New York stand, Aznavour will embark on an unusually extensive North American tour. According to his representatives, the itinerary will be as follows: San Francisco (April 15); Los Angeles (April 20-24); Columbus (April 28); Ottawa (April 30); Toronto (May 1); Montreal (May 2-3); Washington (May 4); Providence, R.I. (May 5); Philadelphia (May 6); Boston (May 7); Pittsburgh (May 8); New Orleans (May 11); Memphis (May 12); Chicago (May 13 ); Miami (May 14); West Palm Beach, Fla. (May 15); Hamilton, Ontario (May 17); Kitchener, Ontario (May 18); Vancouver, British Columbia (May 19-21); Calgary, Alberta (May 23); Edmonton, Alberta (May 24); Quebec (May 28).