Edith Piaf! Just the sound of the name thrills me that someone mentioned the Broadway show, Piaf here. The question asked was about the famous urination scene that took place on center stage. I believe the actress was Jane Lapotaire who gave an uncanny portrayal of PIAF in this show. The publicity at the time showed the actress center stage with water dripping between her legs. Obviously, it was a special effect to dramatize the downfall of this great star. I found that this scene was so repulsive that I refused to see this show. And, my friends, I don't miss a Broadway show and especially this one, because, I was not just a fan... I was mesmerized by Piaf. I loved her, and still do, but let me digress a bit.
To me, the Broadway show has not been written yet on Piaf, and it is there. Her history is greater than that of Fanny Brice and Funny Girl I suppose we will just have to wait and see what happens.
Piaf was born in France in utter poverty. At the age of 12 she was blind, but miraculously regained her sight. Later on in life, she was blinded again, but the same thing happened, and her sight was restored. She literally sang for her supper in the streets of Paris during the Second World War. She then led a life of prostitution on the streets of Pigalle (a section of Paris). Still, she sang, and Parisians began to take notice of this extraordinarily gifted songbird. To make a long story short, she became a very famous chanteuse of France during the time that Judy Garland (America) and Marlene Dietrich (Germany) were enjoying fame. Her songs epitomized the vulnerability of France (then German occupied) and a nation rushed to her ... adored her, loved her. Her voice was inspired by God and she could sell a song like no one in this century. In short the nation of France was in love with their very own Edith Piaf. She appeared on stage in a plain black dress, a harsh spotlight on her, and she just sang her heart out. Audiences cried, laughed, and cheered. She became known as The Little Sparrow.
Her fame spread throughout the world and she appeared in concerts in London, New York and just about every major city in the world. Her songs were in French, but audiences understood, even if they could not understand the language, such was the power of her delivery.
But drugs, booze, and multiple marriages took their toll on Piaf. She aged rapidly, sinned in the eyes of the very Catholic French, and lost popularity. Her health was never very good to begin with.
But, she possessed that stage magic!
In the 60's, she had a pop hit in America called "MILORD" which was played on all the top 40 stations. I wonder if they knew then that it was about a prostitute and her client if they would have played it.
I first encountered Piaf on 6th Avenue and 23rd Street in New York. I was walking past the corner in front of St. Vincent de Paul Church when I saw a wedding party pull up. I heard someone say ... "It's Piaf!" She was getting married again; that day to Theo Serapo, a much younger stud. Her maid of honor was Marlene Dietrich. I slipped in the church and watched the ceremony.
France was outraged by her behavior in marrying a much younger man, especially in her state of health. Still, she did what she wanted to do. She partied hard, drank, the drugs, the young men ... but she was seeking love and she was desperate for it. And to do this in America .. well, Frenchmen were furious with her.
She contracted to do a concert toward the end of her life in Paris ... still knowing how her people were still fuming with her. And she pulled a coup d'etat even after being warned not to do what she was about to do.
She walked out on stage in that black dress ... that small spotlight .. and opened her show with a new song that was penned for her by Dummont/Vaucaire, part of her writing friends.
She sang ... NON, JE NE REGRETTE RIEN ... (NO, I regret Nothing!) ... she floored the audience and they fell in love all over again. The song is highly personal and roughly translates to "I have no regrets. The past is forgotten. I don't need my memories. I'm starting all over again....with you." At a later concert in 1962 she brought Theo out and did a duet with him. (A QUOI CA SERT L'AMOUR)
The day Piaf died, the nation of France went into deep mourning ... people cried in the streets of Paris ... the soul of France had died and a nation mourned, as we did too in America.
Years passed, albums collected, I learned to sing in French and cherished the memories of Edith Piaf.
I went to Paris last year and while everyone else went to the Louvre to see Mona and Winged Victory, I headed out to Pere Lechaise, perhaps the world's's greatest cemetery. The ancient stones, the huge trees, everything so crowded, so medieval ... so surreal .. and everyone famous on God's earth is buried here ... names like Rossini, Wilde, Stein ... I mean like hundreds of famous people .. they even sell maps out at the main entrance giving directions to the famous graves. Unfortunately, the most famous grave here is Jim Morrison of the DOORS, and his tombstone bust was stolen long ago.
I searched and searched until I found the grave of the great chanteuse who died over 20 years ago ...
.. a grave to this day, and I swear it is true, completely covered with fresh flowers. A tear came to my eye as I witnessed the love of the French people for this great performer.
Let's get back to Broadway. When they did the show a number of years back and I read about the urinating scene, I was furious. Actually, because of my love for Piaf, I did not want to see her portrayed this way... even if it were true. I knew her life was rough, but I found this to be beyond a sense of good taste. What happened was that they had Piaf center stage in her black dress and a stream of water fell to the floor ... making its sounds as it hit the floor. Well, I didn't see it... I didn't have to.
About 2 or 3 years ago... a performer from New Jersey did an off B'way show called Piaf on 42nd Street and turned in a magnificent performance. I just wish I could remember her name to catch it again if she does her tribute to Piaf again. She will remember me, I was in the third row, left... standing at curtain call, with tears in my eyes.
Now all of you leave!
Piaf. If you are up there in cyberspace...
Note: The tribute to Piaf is a memory piece and the sequence of the historical events may not have occurred exactly as told. Also, Jane Lapotaire was nominated for a Tony Award for her excellent portrayal of Piaf.
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