PIAF:  ANOTHER HIT AT WINCHESTER

 

By: Hal de Becker

 

Naomi Emmerson’s one woman presentation, “Piaf: Love Conquers All,” depicting the life and loves of Edith Piaf, may have been Patrick Gaffey’s biggest coup yet for Clark County’s Winchester Cultural Center.  

 

There were two performances and the theater was packed for both.  Judging from the ovations and cheers each received it’s likely any additional showings would have been equally well-attended.  

 

Dramatically and vocally Ms. Emmerson’s portrayal of the legendary French chanteuse seemed more like an incarnation than an impersonation.  She also bore a resemblance to Piaf -- unless that was an illusion created by her remarkable artistry. 

 

Whether singing or speaking, her French accented English was accompanied by the exaggerated and charming Parisian body language and expressions, including raised eye brows, grimaces, jutting chin, lifted shoulders and, when provoked, an appropriate naughty gesture.

 

Although Piaf stood only four foot eight inches, she possessed a strong voice with a harsh, guttural timbre through which much of the pain and sorrow of her life resonated.      

 

Ms. Emmerson’s consummate delivery of Piaf’s unique tonality and dedication to lyrics left me doubting I could tell the difference between her voice and the Piaf recordings.  

 

Piaf’s life, unlike her signature song La Vie en Rose, wasn’t always rosey.  It ran the gamut of human experience from love and happiness to depression and death.  Emotionally she combined a childlike vulnerability with streetwise toughness. 

 

She knew love, stardom and wealth but also poverty and tragedy, including a daughter who died in childhood and her lover, champion boxer Marcel Cerdan, who perished in a plane crash at the peak of their love and mutual stardoms.  After a major auto accident resulting in excruciating pain she began her descent into morphine addiction. 

 

At the end of her life in 1963 at age 47, she had the loving support of her husband, Theo Sarapo, a young hair dresser-turned-singer who died at age 34 in 1970.  

 

To portray a life and a personality like Piaf’s, calls for a superbly gifted actress as well as singer.  Ms. Emmerson answered both calls convincingly and movingly and with amazing stamina.    

 

‘Piaf LCA’ was written in 1992 by Roger Pease.  Ms. Emmerson has been performing it for more than a decade. She is also its director, producer and designer of the striking set inspired by an illustration of Piaf for a play written by her friend Jean Cocteau. 

 

The surreal set suggested a small, shabby apartment with twisted, slanting furniture upon which objects somehow stayed put.  At its center, two crossed sheer curtains framed the Eiffel Tower and also served as the on-stage entrance for depictions of Piaf’s performances.  

         

The excellent and unobtrusive musical accompaniment was provided by pianist Angela Chan-Stopa and accordionist Hubert Gall.  Lighting by Rob Hays and Teresa  Kidder was especially effective.

 

Hopefully, Winchester will have a return engagement of Naomi Emmerson in ‘Piaf LCA’.  If so, I suggest tickets be purchased early.   It’s sure to be a sellout. 

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