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Posts Tagged ‘Edith Piaf’

It’s amazing how much biography Pam Gems’ play packs into 2.5 hours; so much, in fact, that sometimes you have to catch your breath. Still, it’s a fascinating life and her songs are extraordinary, so it’s a rewarding if speedy ride.

This is the third time I’ve seen this play with music and it varies little by production; whether that’s faithfulness to the script or no room for directorial concept, I don’t know. Paul Kerryson’s seemed a touch faster paced and a bit cruder (but that might have been a reaction to the lady in front of us who was clearly horrified by its rudeness). The design and staging are simple but effective, as they need to be given the number of scenes, and that puts the story centre stage.

We move c.30 years from the young street singer to the international star’s untimely death. In between, her neediness is manifested in drink, drugs and men; her addictive personality means she can’t get enough of any of them and is herself abused in the process. Somehow she manages to, or maybe because of this she does, produce a catalogue of songs with an emotional depth most songwriters would envy, and perform them with a conviction like each was for one time only.

The success of the play does of course depend on the leading lady and Frances Ruffelle is outstanding as Piaf, both dramatically and musically. In this production, the roles of friend Madelein and colleague Marlene seem further to the fore, and this may well be because Tiffany Graves is simply superb as both. The supporting cast of six men and just one woman play all the other people in her life and do so uniformly well; no weak links here.

It was good to see it again, and good to visit Leicester Curve’s studio space for the first time. I hope the lucky people of Leicester know just how lucky they are – West End quality for half the price.

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The Wainwright-McGarrigle musical dynasty has been part of my life now for 40 years. The first Kate & Anna McGarrigle album is on my personal soundtrack of the 70’s. Loudon was always lingering there in the background, though I never took to his quirkiness as I did to the McGarrigles gorgeous harmonies. I came late to Rufus, when Want One bowled me over little more than 6 years ago, but have since bought every record and taken every opportunity to see him live. A year or so later I went to see Martha at the Bloomsbury Theatre out of curiosity (with a singer-songwriter called James Morrison supporting!) and from then I was hooked on her too. She provided one of the highlights of 2010 with a solo show at the Jazz Cafe, a break from nursing her premature baby, and contributed greatly to another highlight, the Kate McGarrigle tribute concert that was part of Richard Thompson’s Meltdown – another musical dynasty – which I suspect will prove to be a highlight of a lifetime of concert-going let alone last year.

When I heard Rufus was to have a one week residency at the Royal Opera House, I couldn’t decide if it was brave, arrogant or sheer chutzpah. After picking myself off the floor having seen the ticket prices, it wasn’t difficult to decide which of the concerts to go to. I’d seen his opera Prima Donna twice, so I didn’t want to see part of it in concert, and I wasn’t sure he and his dad Loudon were particularly compatible stage partners.

The first of my selected two was his concert with sister Martha. This may be Rufus’ ROH debut, but it wasn’t Martha’s as she’d been part of a brilliant production of Kurt Weill’s Seven Deadly Sins here a few years back. This concert wasn’t what I was expecting, and I suspect fans of the family liked it more than those of just Rufus, but it was still a treat. Martha, after a slow start, delivered a wonderfully eclectic hour of her own songs plus some from her mum and a couple of Piaf’s. She’s growing into as much of an original and as much of a star as her brother. I was expecting Rufus to give us his own selection, but half-way through, on came Martha, then cousin Lily (Anna’s daughter), and we got another eclectic selection which included more Kate McGarrigle songs, a Leonard Cohen song (‘my father-in-law, well, sort of’!) and the Elton John / Kiki Dee duet Don’t Go Breaking My Heart, which was huge fun. Calum, the son of Ewan MacColl (another folk dynasty!) was on guitar so we got Ewan’s lovely homage to London – Sweet Thames, Flow Softly – which was deeply moving, though not as moving as Kate’s Talk To Me of Mendocino, where there wasn’t a dry eye in my seat in the House of Rufus.

When he first did Rufus Does Judy, I couldn’t get excited about it. I wasn’t a Judy Garland fan and didn’t really see the point. Much later, I caught it on TV and then got the point, so seeing it live became a must. By the interval, I wasn’t sure but the second half (when he came on as a queen in crown and robe!) soared and my the end I was absolutely convinced. The arrangements are terrific and his extraordinary voice really suits these songs. The Britten Sinfonia, under Stephen Oremus, was a great backing band, though a shade too loud occasionally, burying the voice. Highlights included two songs with just piano – Gershwin’s A Foggy Day and Noel Coward’s If Love Were All – plus You Go To My Head, Putting on the Ritz, Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart and Chicago. Martha’s almost stole the show with a brilliant version of Stormy Weather (in tutu, tiara and some accomplished but tongue-in-cheek ballet moves!).

So, not arrogant…..yes, brave……yes, chutzpah……and two fine musical evenings I shall cherish with all the other Wainwright-McGarrigle memories.

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