By Tulis McCall
“I thought I’d get right to the tragedy,” Gay Marshall tells us after her first two songs “L’Accordioniste” (The Accordionist) and “Les Amants d’un Jour” (Lovers for a Day). And isn’t that our picture of Edith Piaf? A waif? A poor victim? At Birdland there even is a post on their site, “Don’t Sing Any Piaf.” But Marshall came at Piaf from a historical POV after reading a biography of her. Piaf was a street child living in a brothel until her father came home and took her to Paris to be part of a troupe of acrobats – she failed at this, thankfully. By 15 she was renting rooms by the half day and singing for anything she needed. Marshall wanted to present her artistry, her way of living in the moment. After meeting Michele Rivegauche, a lyricist for Piaf, Marshall was inspired to create her repertoire.
Marshall straddles the ocean with her elegant interpretation of Edith Piaf. She presents Piaf with an American eye and English translations (her own) that are pure poetry. Taking on an icon is one thing, taking on an icon in an adopted country is another. The French, notorious for snobbery, when hearing of her focus on Piaf could only respond, “Formidable.” Translation: “Good friggin’ luck with that one, Missy.”
But Marshall is not a woman who looks for permission before leaping in. Her admiration for Piaf is enormous, and as the evening progresses we get glimpses of Piaf’s life as well as Marshall’s. I am not one for patter in a show that serves only to take up time like too many words in a theatre review. In this case however, Marshall’s passion for Piaf is contageous, and in the end we salute and we mourn this treasure who died at the absurd age of 47.
Marshall saves the two iconic songs “La Vie En Rose” and “Non Je Ne Regrette Rien” for her final numbers. By the time we all arrive at the finale we have been immersed in not only Piaf, but in Marshall’s life and love in Paris. Thus the final numbers are even more triumphant.
I was somewhat lost during the mid-section of the show, but this may be due to the fact that the songs were not familiar to me. The evening felt as though it stretched on a bit too long, and Marshall might do well to consider a judicious trim. It would not be easy because Marshall loves ALL these songs, and her passion is pure. For me, however, a little less would go a greater distance.
When all is said and done, this evening lets us know that Gay Marshall, like Edith Piaf, is a force of nature. She is her own universe, and the rest of us, fortunately, are allowed to live in it. Well done.