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Street Singer – Celebrating the Life of Edith Piaf

Pascal Rioult and Christine Andreas

                                 By   R. Pikser

It is hard to believe that such an entrancing show ran only four days.  It would seem perfect for an extended run in the very cabaret in which it was performed, the club that is part of The Out Hotel.  For this production, a narrow stage ran across the opposite end of the room from the entrance.  Three stairs descended from the stage to a runway about four and a half feet wide that extended into the audience. The band, comprised of piano (played by Don Rebic, the musical director), accordion, guitar, and drums was stage right on the top level and entrances and exits were made stage left, also on the stage level. Across the back of the stage, two young couples, possibly out for a day in the country in the 1930’s, smiled from a sepia tint blow-up.  Ultraviolet lighting, punctuated by strings of tiny white lights greeted the audience members as we came in to be seated at the small tables that filled the room.  Once the show began, proper theater lighting let us see what was going on and provided mood; the backdrop was replaced by other projections, moving and still, as the show progressed through time, lending a sense of place to the sparely staged production, part history, part imaginary, of Piaf’s life and her art.

The center of the production was Piaf, and the performance of her songs by an ageless Christine Andreas.  Ms. Andreas, who received accolades as Eliza Doolitle in the 20th anniversary production of My Fair Lady in the 1970’s, was riveting in this show also.  One could relax in her professionalism, the ease of her performance, and her impeccable timing.  Her mastery was evidenced by the fact that she did not choose to limit herself by doing an impression of Piaf, or, as others have done, of Piaf’s pain, but found her own path in the songs.  The title of the show told us that the path was of life, and the opening and closing numbers, Non, Je ne regrette rien, underscored the point. 

Besides conceiving of the show and choreographing it, Mr. Rioult performed, sometimes narrating, sometimes standing in for one or another man in Piaf’s life, sometimes merely enjoying and supporting Ms. Andreas.  He still moves cleanly and with great pleasure and can command the stage.  However, this evening, he always deferred to Ms. Andreas. Indeed, once one looked at her as she sang, it was almost impossible to look away.  The tables closest to the stage and to the runway, seemingly the choice seats, were actually disadvantageous because one could not see Ms. Andreas and the screen projections, and the musicians, and the dancers at the same time.  This was a rich show.

Christine Andreas (singing), Charis Haines, and Michael S. Phillips

The dances were either abstractions of real events, such as Piaf’s childhood in a brothel, or representations of the various milieus in which Piaf lived and worked.  The dancers did well in the restricted space, and no one fell off the stage or hit the low-hanging lights on the lifts.  But the narrowness of the movement space was definitely a challenge, even with choreographic adjustments. 

One of the most enjoyable movement scenes was a solo for a young man performing as a transvestite at one of Piaf’s less savory jobs.  He had all the runway to himself and he took it.  He was also able to indulge himself in the character, something that the other dancers, especially the men, tended to have problems with.  Though Pilar Limosner dressed the men in a working class/Apache manner appropriate to the world in which Piaf first established herself, the men had difficulty performing the hyper-masculinity of that milieu. 

Sara E. Seger, Holt Walborn, Michael S. Phillips, Candace Perry, Jere Hunt, and Charis Haines

The most successful attempt was during the Apache dance (ironically choreographed to La vie en rose) where the violence of the movement provided the male dancer with something far enough outside himself that he could be, and move as, someone else.  Perhaps, if, or when the show is presented again, the choreography might be adapted to help the men in their characterizations.

On the whole, the 90 minute evening was enthralling and the energy of all the performers was infectious.  It was also a privilege to see Ms. Andreas work.

Live music, directed by Don Rebic,
Projections: Brian Clifford Beasley
Lighting design: Jim French
Costumes: Pilar Limosner
Dialogue and staging by Drew Scott Harris
Concept and choreography:  Pascal Rioult 
The Street Singer
Celebrating the Life of Edith Piaf
Rioult Dance
May 13th-16th 2015
42 West Nightclub
514 West 42nd Street
New York, NY
Tickets: Starting at $25, plus a $25 drink minimum
ticket; 212 279 4200