Lua Hadar: C'est Magnifique
Also see Patrick's review of Harvey
All thats missing from C'est Magnifique, Lua Hadar's breezy and delightful three-night stand at Society Cabaret in the Hotel Rex in San Francisco, is a haze of Gauloises smoke. That's one of the few things that would make this 90-minute foray through the songs of Charles Trenet, Edith Piaf and Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (more on that later) more Parisian.
Sure, Hadar herself isn't French (she grew up on Long Island), and all the French was sung, not spoken, but the show included such a lovely variety of songs from cabaret traditions of Paris (and beyond), that we might as well have been in a brick-walled basement room in the quartier latin.
Not that the Society Cabaret isn't a lovely room. In fact, its a delightful space to hear live music. Intimate but not cramped, the walls adorned with a collection of quirky charcoal portraits, with low cocktail tables surrounded by comfy upholstered chairs. Its impresarios are booking a variety of both established and up-and-coming cabaret performers and the Society Cabaret deserves to have every one of those chairs filled.
There was a full house on Saturday night for the final show in Hadar's San Francisco run (fresh off a sold-out engagement in Paris) to listen to the chanteuse wind her way through nearly a dozen-and-a-half songs you knew, wished you knew, or had never heard performed in quite that way before.
Hadar got off to a weak start with a medley that began with "I Love Paris" and closed with "C'est Magnifique." The problem was not so much with the song selection (though it was a tad predictable), but with Hadar's voice. She seemed to be having some breathing issues and couldn't quite support the notes she wanted to hit, flatting some and resorting to what sounded like a falsetto a couple of other times.
No matter. With the intro behind her, Hadar's voice warmed up a bit and, by the time she delivered her version of "L'Accordioniste," introduced in 1940 by Edith Piaf, she was firing on all cylinders. She gave us a lovely down-tempo interpretation of Charles Trenet's "La Mer," and a French version of Cole Porter's "Night and Day."
Hadar also introduced the audience to a range of lesser-known French songs, from music hall numbers such as "Il Pleurait" to the circus-y "Saltimbanque" to "San Francisco," a tune written by French pop star Maxime Le Forestier that recalled the free-living times of our city in the '60s and '70s. (Interestingly, the maison bleu referenced in the song is a real house that overlooks Dolores Park, and while it was actually light green for a time, was repainted blue in 2011 in honor of the song.)
But it was her take on "Someday My Prince Will Come" that threw me off-kilter. Not being a fan of Disney sappiness, I was surprised at how seamlessly the melody blended in to the spirit of the evening. With new lyrics in French, the song sounded perfectly Parisian.
For most of the numbers sung in French, Hadar gave a lovely little recap of the story of the song, so those of us whose French is less than fluent would be able to grasp a bit more of the tragedy or comedy embedded in the lyric.
No matter what she sang, Hadar was more than ably backed by a four-piece combo composed of pianist/music director Jason Martineau, bassist Dan Feiszli, drummer Kelly Park and accordion player extraordinaire David Miotke. Though the entire quartet was excellent, with a solid rhythm section and great direction from Martineau, it was Miotke's playing that lent the evening a truly Gallic flair. His bouncy, energetic solos were one of the highlights of the night.
The Society Cabaret is located in the Hotel Rex at 562 Sutter Street in San Francisco. You can find more information and access their calendar for upcoming shows at www.societycabaret.com.