Christine Andreas channels and illuminates the legend of Piaf in ‘No Regrets.’
DETROIT, Mich.–Edith Piaf remains a legend in France, especially among those old enough to remember the 40s, 50s and 60s. In America, she remains a hero among those with a sense of history and who are driven by the arts. Piaf was a total original–a “monster” in the French sense of the word which connotes a sense of dominating. She dominated France from the standpoint of music for three decades.
Piaf could make you weep one second because of her plaintiff, provocative, tragic voice, and make you want to follow her down the street to defend France and Democracy the next.
We can use some that today–a voice of unending inspiration and passion that truly penetrates people of every stripe. In 1956, she gave a concert at Carnegie Hall at which she received a ten minute standing ovation, tears streaming down the faces of those lucky enough to get a ticket. She killed. And artists and fans looked to her for inspiration.
We are fortunate enough to have in our midst Christine Andreas, a consummate cabaret singer and actress who performed Piaf: No Regrets Valentine’s Day weekend at The Detroit Institute of Arts’ Rivera Court. It is a show, if you missed it in Detroit, that you can catch other times, as Andreas says she will probably perform the show, featuring storytelling about Piaf and her music, “til the day I die.”
Andreas is a bit taller than the 4’11 Piaf, and sings in a higher octave. And unlike Piaf’s almost feral voice, Andreas has a classically trained, clarion voice, and is a terrific belter. Whereas Piaf’s voice took you through a tunnel, Andreas’s often lifts hearts to the sky.
That said, Ms. Andreas shapes and molds her vocals to fit Piaf’s songbook in a way that is convincing that she is truly channeling the legend who died in 1963. It is her passion and commitment to the story that comes through every minute of the roughly 90 minute show.
Among the songs Andreas brings to the storytelling evening is “Hymne a’ l’amour,” “Autumn Leaves,” “Padam Padam,” and “If You Go Away.” Andreas’s music director is Martin Silvestri, and he deftly plays piano and accordion.
There is only one minor flaw in the show. There are places in the show where images and film appear on twin screens on either side of the performance space. It is done in a very amateurish way, with someone fumbling around with the home-screen on their computer and starting separate files on the screens visible to the audience. It is jarring and detracts from the sublime music experience. It is actually a nice touch, but these images need to be corralled into an actual slide show so that all anyone has to do is hit an advance button. Either do away with the media images, or do it properly.
Ms. Andreas sports a lovely black dress in homage to Piaf who always wore black, with short-cropped hair. Listening to her toggle between English and French and watching her one can get the idea she is Piaf’s daughter or granddaughter–the connection is that palpable. To her credit, Ms. Andreas never tries to mimic Piaf. She instead turns her own light on within the music.
Andreas and Silvestri celebrate, deliver and channel one of the most powerful and significant vocal artists of the 20th century. Piaf fans should adore the tribute, and newbies hopefully will discover a voice for freedom, passion and liberty that is heartfelt and full of truth that we just don’t have today. It’s 57 years since Piaf passed from this life to the next, but there is just as much passion and truth in her music as there was on that sad day in 1963, or when she entertained troops during World War Two, or lit up Paris clubs with her soul.