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Gay Marshall: A Banquet of Piaf

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Close your eyes and it might be 1950s Paris. With perhaps less tremolo and choke in her voice, but every bit as much articulated feeling, Gay Marshall presents an evening of Edith Piaf interpretation which rises to intoxicating heights. Like Piaf, the petite powerhouse expands her vocal chords as if they were open arms in the universal gesture of welcome and appeal. Her opening salvo Padam (Henri Contet/Norbert Glanzberg) sent shivers down my spine. It says: (the tune she can’t get out of her head) Remember your loves/Remember since it’s your turn/There’s no reason for you not to cry.

Marshall draws us into the ethos of the songs with beautifully calibrated balance of English and French, so that we understand not only the lyrics, but also what they’re saying. Choruses that seem musically joyful are often lyrically wild efforts to exorcise pain. The famous L’Accordeoniste (Michel Emer), for example, tells of a prostitute who loses her musician lover to war, finally, helplessly, dancing to another’s tune. Comprehension makes it no less exhilarating. The impassioned vocalist enriches our experience. And oh the accordionist—on a cabaret stage!

“If someone had said to me you will meet a tall, dark stranger, sing in foreign languages, and move across the sea, I would’ve said, no, I came to New York to study tap dancing…” Interspersed between numbers, Marshall, a trained actress, talks about discovering and feeling such great affinity with Piaf she moved to Paris for first hand research. She even tracked down the icon’s manager, whose description of the woman he knew was one of courage and humor. “… she boils down to much more than: oh, that poor thing!”

He said: You’re beautiful./And usually in that quarter,/We never said things like that…begins Elle Frequentait La Rue Pigalle (Raymond Asso/L.Matrier). With daylight comes harsh reality, of course. The beautiful arrangement features stirring violin and cello. At the deserted bar when she drinks, remembering his hands on the old piano, an older woman finds herself screaming at flippant youth. The Old Piano (Henri Contet/ Philippe Gerard). With only evocative music hall-like piano accompaniment, a dusky café of ghosts is conjured. Marshall conveys the stoic, wounded heroines for which Piaf was so well known with generous voice, but eloquent restraint. Unlike many acolytes, she never gushes. Les Amants d’un Jour (Claude Delecluse/Michele Senlis/Marguerite Monnot), about a young couple who commit suicide together, is kept sad and reflective.

“It turns out you are not who you think you are when you move. It turns out you’re the whole United States.” Charming, self effacing anecdotes illuminating innate differences between French and Americans are warm and funny. (Evidently Marshall has performed her one woman show around this theme “If I Were Me.” With great success at The Edinburgh Fringe Festival). Unfortunately, she found herself abroad during Bush’s tenure, for which, as an American, she was blamed. “Now Obama’s in and I get no credit at all!”

La Vie en Rose (Edith Piaf/Louiguy), initially thought by Piaf’s peers to have no likelihood of success, and Milord (Georges Moustaki), the story of a lower class, port girl and her yearnings for an elegant, upper class British traveler whom she’s seen on the streets, channel other times with irresistible, rough hewn ardor. Deceptively simple songs, they route directly to the heart. Marshall unconditionally gives herself to their service.

No evening of Piaf would be complete without Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (Michel Vaucair/Charles Dumont). The tinkling music box piano leads us as if carrying a torch. Joined successively by violin, cello and then the other musicians, the anthem swells to sumptuous effect.

Gay Marshall presents a stellar evening—exciting, jaunty, and suffused with pathos. She’s a small woman wearing a big mantle to which she does credit.

Tracy Stark’s Musical Direction is impeccable. The orchestra is a marvelous mix of fine instrumentalists, adding immeasurably to the texture of the evening.

ONE MORE PERFORMANCE: June 26, 2011
Feinstein’s at Loew’s Regency
540 Park Avenue
212-339-4095
Piaf: Queen of Heart
Gay Marshall, Vocals
Tracy Stark, Musical Director/Pianist
Hiroko Taguchi, Violin
Mark Wade, Bass
Jim Pederson, Cello
Bill Schimmel, Accordion

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