- September 26, 2020
In her lifetime the highest paid female performer in the world, Piaf became a living legend, dedicated to two things – singing and lovers, well maybe three, she was also addicted to both booze and drugs as we discover in Andrew Farr’s beautifully constructed tribute. But unlike many musical tribute shows, this is also beautifully dramatised with Andrew Farr inhabiting the spirit of Piaf in an at times painfully honest way.
This is a no holds barred portrayal of the chanteuse delivered as autobiography by Farr. From her frankly bizarre parentage and childhood to an adolescence living in her grandmother’s brothel, he tells a tale that is pure rags to riches and back to rags again, the ups and downs, her exhausting concert tours, some of which were delivered in a circus tent metres above roaring lions, to her initial struggle to conquer America, which of course she finally achieved.
Farr’s performance is well judged, this is a work of real theatre and the way he handles playing the part of the diminutive Piaf is respectful and sensitive, there is no element of “drag” about this and even the costume is an androgynous nod to her customary black dress and crucifix.
Of course no show about Piaf could be satisfying without the songs and those songs delivered in her unmistakeable style. Farr has mastered this, the coarse vibrato, the distinctive phrasing and most importantly the passion, as he delivers moments from her immense catalogue, songs steeped in pain and misery. The big numbers are all there of course but in addition some less well known, but any Piaf fan should leave more than happy.
Farr tells the story with wit and with charm, anecdotes flow seamlessly between the songs and at one point he comments on the artist’s generosity in helping future stars along the way. In doing so he invites into the “elevator” local singer Nick Ford who wows the audience with a selection of songs that display his excellent voice and incredible vocal range, this exposed in an extraordinary rendering of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. Nick is also joined on stage by Adam Betteridge for a charming duet before the haunting image of Edith returns to complete her story, her final loves, final shows and finally her incredible funeral when thousands lined the streets to watch her funeral procession to the Père Lachaise cemetery, where more than 40,000 saw her interred.
This is a moving and entertaining evening of theatre and music, stylishly crafted and performed and this new and shorter version (I have seen this before) is a very successful development of Farr’s homage to Piaf.
(Photograph:Michael Stone on behalf of Nick Ford Photography)