What is it? As “the little sparrow,” Naomi Emmerson dishes with the audience about men, music, and morphine at the heart of French singer Edith Piaf’s life. The show has been winning awards from big-time fringe festivals and has just wrapped a 10-week Off Broadway run.

Why see it? Emmerson’s performance includes 13 of Piaf’s classic songs, including “La Vie En Rose” and “Mon Dieu.”

Who should go? Lovers of last year’s Academy Award-winning La Vie En Rose or French pop classics.

PICCOLO SPOLETO • $27-$29 • 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

Viva La Vie En Rose: Stage show provides a night with Edith Piaf


Known by her nickname, The Little Sparrow, Edith Piaf was to France what Elvis was to the U.S.

While her music was legendary, attention in the past few years has turned toward her private life and the men and morphine that filled her days.

“She had a passion for living, but she was also self-destructive,” says actress and producer Naomi Emmerson, who will appear in PIAF: Love Conquers All. “But if she was addicted to any drug, it was singing and music. If she stopped singing, she would have definitely died.”

The 2008 Academy Award for best actress went to Marion Cotillard for her performance in the recent biopic named after Piaf’s most recognizable hit, “La Vie En Rose” (like other Piaf classics, you don’t know you know it until you hear a few bars).

Love Conquers All includes 13 of Piaf’s classic songs wrapped around her conversations with the audience about important points in her life. The show has been winning awards at fringe festivals and just wrapped a 10-week Off Broadway run.

Presented from Piaf’s point of view, Emmerson says it’s an effort by the singer to get the story right.

“Some of it may not have happened the way she says, but it’s how she would want to be remembered,” Emmerson says. “The main point is that she didn’t have any regrets.”

In interviews, Piaf was always asked if she would have lived her life different.

“No, of course not,” she’d reply. “If I live my life any other way, I wouldn’t sing like I do.”

Emmerson first took on the role in 1993 for playwright and director Roger Peace. She didn’t know much about Piaf, but she was anxious to take on the role.

“I was much younger and my career was just starting, so it was a huge thing to take on,” she says. “I was just so fascinated by the music and how the lyrics are so entwined with her life.”

The show ran for five weeks in Toronto and was well-received, even though a larger Piaf production was running at the same time across town.

Twelve years later, Emmerson was looking for a project to direct and produce, and thought back to her time with Piaf.

She called Peace and got his blessing to revive the script. It was a hit at the 2005 Toronto Fringe Festival. A tour followed. “It’s continued to take over my life,” Emmerson says.

In her fourth year of doing the show, she is still finding something new in the story, pointing to recent work for a potential virtual production.

“I had to say the words and sing the songs,” she says. “It’d only been two or three months and already they’re coming out differently.”

One of her favorites songs is “La Foule.”

“I’d love to make a short film of that,” she says. “There’s a perfect story.”

She also likes “Les Blouses Blanche” (translated as “The White Coats”), about a woman sent to the insane asylum.

“It’s very theatrical,” Emmerson says.

As an artist who’s played this role for several years, the success of La Vie En Rose and Marion Cotillard for her performance as Piaf could have prompted Emmerson to be indignant about the film, but instead she says she’s taken what she could from the performance.

“I was really positively influenced,” Emmerson says of the movie she’s seen four times. “She took some chances I hadn’t taken. It’s also going to help with people remembering the name and getting it out there. And it’s not like it’s another theater production. That’s a whole different medium — a whole different tax bracket.”