Oh, how today’s tabloids would have loved Edith Piaf. By 1963, the iconic French pop legend of the ’40s and ’50s had bedded a revolving door of men and overcame a long bought with morphine abuse, all along captivating audiences with her passionate, rolling voice.
In PIAF: Love Conquers All, producer, director and star Naomi Emmerson gives audiences two intimate evenings with the singer with conversations in stilted English and songs in Piaf’s native French. The show will likely best resonate with an older audience who knows the singer and the songs, but the uninitiated can still break through the language barrier.
The production gives what one would expect from a one-woman show, with Piaf millin’ around from chair to table, from chair to table, as she talks about the men and music that captured her life, while certain memories lead her to the center of the stage to offer up one signature song after another.
Emmerson certainly has the voice to do Piaf. “Milord” gets the blood pumping in the first act and she keeps the audience going with “Padam Padam” and “La Vie En Rose” (otherwise known as “the one you’ll recognize after a few bars”).
By the end of the first act, it’s evident that Piaf’s faith in love is broken. When we’re reintroduced in Act II, she’s struggling through a morphine addiction while looking back on her many lovers.
“A good song is like true love — damn hard to find.” Piaf says.
There are a few uncomfortable numbers with Piaf struggling with the pains of loss and addiction. But the final two numbers, “Mon Dieu” and “Non Je Ne Regrette Rein,” show why Piaf’s final performances were still leaving audiences swooning.
The story by playwright Roger Peace tries to give the history of Piaf as interpreted by Piaf. There’s no denying that the woman’s personal life was a tragedy, which may be why most of the stabs at humor (including one about a man’s sexual shortcoming and another about the thighs of bicyclists) don’t soar. That said, they do add a little flavor to the character’s remembrances.
Where the show does soar is Emmerson’s solid interpretations of Piaf’s classic songs, with the help of pianist Carmela Sinco. A handy guide in the program gives some context for each song, which is helpful, but that may be enough for some audience members to properly understand the subject matter of each song. But, like a good opera, one can appreciate the work without singing along.
PIAF Love Conquers All • Piccolo Spoleto’s Musical Theatre Series • $29, $27/students, seniors •2 hours • May 23, June 5 at 5 p.m., May 24 at 7 p.m., May 25 at 2:30 p.m., May 26, 29 at 7:30 p.m., May 31 at 5:30 p.m., June 1 at 2 p.m., June 4 at 8 p.m., June 6 at 3 p.m. • Footlight Players Theatre, 20 Queen St. • (888) 374-2656