With his rich accent, natural stage presence and smooth renditions of romantic French lyrics wrapped in classic melodies, singer Jean-Luc Bruno delivers an emotional performance that makes some guests reach for handkerchiefs.
"He has so much expression, he puts tears in your eyes," said Thu Schaeffer, a language instructor at Howard and Catonsville community colleges who first heard him sing at a party for her students.
"He sings the songs so well that I like them more than [when they were performed] by their original singers. Everyone says that."
Mr. Bruno, a resident of Columbia, will sing French music-hall songs in a cabaret night at 7:30 p.m. today at the Q-Theatre in Catonsville Community College.
The 33-year-old Frenchman from Toulon will dedicate the 90-minute program to the late French performers Edith Piaf and Yves Montand.
"They were the two greatest singers," said Mr. Bruno, who moved to the United States last year.
"When Edith Piaf sang, she was in the song," he said of the French singer who died 30 years ago. "She lived the song. Yves Montand was discovered by Edith Piaf. He was the most famous French singer and actor."
Montand, who died three years ago, performed in the United States for decades.
"Onstage, he was very visual," Mr. Bruno said. "He sang, he danced. He interpreted a lot of songs of musical performer Jacques Brel."
Mr. Bruno will sing several of Brel's songs including his French version of "The Quest" from the musical "Man of La Mancha."
Although the young singer is accompanied by three musicians when he performs in France, he will sing to a tape arranged by his pianist in France.
"It is difficult for me to find a musician who knows these French songs," he said.
Mr. Bruno first sang publicly on the streets outside his grandfather's tavern in Toulon when he was 4. At 6, he sang inside.
A friend of the family invited the youngster to sing in music halls the songs his grandfather had taught him about the south of France. "And I've never stopped singing," he said.
Although he never trained professionally, Mr. Bruno has performed in French cabarets, operettas, outdoor festivals and at the university in Aix-En-Provence, near Marseille, where he studied social work.
He met his wife, the former Natalie Rivers of Columbia, while she was a student in France. They married in 1988 and lived in Toulon.
Last year, they moved with their two young children to Howard County where Mrs. Bruno teaches French at Mayfield Woods Middle School in Elkridge.
Mr. Bruno began singing locally when Ms. Schaeffer, who teaches French and Spanish, urgently needed to replace the scheduled entertainer who fell ill just before Ms. Schaeffer's annual Christmas party for her Catonsville students.
The Ellicott City resident called the president of the French Club in Columbia who contacted one of its new members -- Mr. Bruno.
Since then, he has sung at two Columbia high schools and Howard Community College. He tried his hand at acting, performing several small character roles in "Gigi" at the Timonium Dinner Theatre in March.
"It was difficult for me to perform two hours in English, so my first experience in a principal role would've been difficult," Mr. Bruno said.
He also performs Friday and Saturday evenings at Marquis De Rochambeau, a Georgetown cabaret, and is the afternoon disc jockey on WUSTA-1120 AM, the French radio station in Washington.
Mr. Bruno sang for a D-Day celebration at the French Embassy in Washington last month and on Bastille Day last week. That evening, he sang at Tersiguel's in Ellicott City.
"We don't have music normally, only on French occasions. And he really is French," said owner Fernand Tersiguel.
"The older guests love him. He brings them back 20, 30 years," Mr. Tersiguel said.