Review: ‘5 O’Clock Bells’

Named for the title number of a 1979 Lenny Breau album, "Bells" presents the musician with few lines, as a shadow, allowing his voice to be heard through his music.

The life of the highly talented but self destructive Canadian jazz guitarist Lenny Breau is channeled through seven voices in the world preem of writer-performer Pierre Brault’s one-person show “5 O’Clock Bells.” Named for the title number of a 1979 Breau album, “Bells” presents the musician with few lines, as a shadow, allowing his voice to be heard through his music.

Breau’s story is told by the seven most important people in his life: his musician parents, his two wives, his mentor — Nashville guitarist Chet Atkins — and the two other musicians who made up his trio, Three.

Beginning at the end with a tip of the hat to the opening sequence of “Sunset Boulevard,” “5 O’Clock Bells” opens with a backlit silhouette of a body sprawled in a swimming pool.Breau was murdered in Los Angeles in 1984 at age 43. His second wife, country singer Jewel Breau (remarried and now known as Jewel Flowers) was the chief suspect but was never charged.

After the opening scene, Brault looks at Breau’s life through the eyes of those who cared for him, often through one-way telephone conversations with the musician. The voices are distinct, and, through the carefully nuanced characters, a clearly defined portrait of the jazz guitarist gradually emerges.

Breau’s huge talent was undeniable. So was his addictive personality and his determination to go it alone. Isolated, disconnected, addicted to heroin, his life spiraled downward despite his musical versatility, originality and generally acknowledged brilliance.

As with many solo shows, “5 O’Clock Bells” is heavily dependent on well orchestrated lighting and sound designs, both evident in this production, meticulously directed by Brian Quirt.

Brault’s signature performance mode has become the one-person show: His two previous solo shows, “Blood on the Moon” and “Portrait of an Unidentified Man,” played to some acclaim in Canada and internationally. “5 O’Clock Bells” will likely join Brault’s touring repertoire.

5 O'Clock Bells

Irving Greenberg Theater Center, Ottawa; 265 seats; C$39 $39 top


A Great Canadian Theater Company, Sleeping Dog Theater Company presentation of a play in two acts by Pierre Brault. Directed by Brian Quirt.


Sets and costumes, Brian Smith; lighting, Martin Conboy; original music, Paul Boudreau. Opened, reviewed April 3, 2008. Running time: 1 HOUR, 20 MIN.


Lenny Breau - Pierre Brault
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