What more fitting way to spend Bastille Day evening than at a tribute to Edith Piaf? The iconic little sparrow has been French/Canadian Myriam Phiro’s lighthouse for many years. One can palpably feel her eagerness to share. “She taught me to sing with truth and to never have regrets.” Songs are bridged with biographical sketch.
Launching into “Milord” (Monot/Moustaki), Phiro grins broadly. The lyric is about a poor immigrant/likely prostitute trying to attract/comfort a man she finds desirable. There’s seduction here, but it’s laced with pathos. Not in Phiro’s version. The vocalist is expressive, gestures are balletic, but performance, contrary to lyric, is jaded.
Innately melancholic, “Les Feuilles Mortes- Autumn Leaves” arrives mid tempo swing .While Phiro shows jazz talent with an elastic vocal and appealing, almost swallowed vibrato, delivery is again contrary to content. (Kosma/Prevert- English Johnny Mercer).
A more successful “La Boheme” (Aznavour/Plante) rises out of viscerally deep breath. Phiro occupies the song as if taking it prisoner. We feel grasping appetite for life gone by. Accompaniment is lush. “Hymn a L’Amour” (Monnot/Piaf) arrives in French and English as if the two songs are partnered.
Pianist Hyuna Park switches instruments for Michel Emer’s classic “L’Accordeoniste,” Piaf’s first certified hit. Here we’re told the story. Taking infectious pleasure in the heroine’s love, we sway with the artist. Phiro almost dances through the untranslated “La Foule” (Cabral/Rivgauche). (She moves beautifully.) One is swept away by the ebullient music of a street festival, but those not bilingual don’t understand this love-at-first-sight is ripped away.
Oran Etkin joins the band for a romantic “Sous Le Ciel de Paris” (Giraud/ Drejac). His clarinet dips, dives, whirls, and backstrokes like a freestyling bird. Phiro is expansive.
Bassist Elias Bailey showcases jazz roots with a solo in Charles Trenet’s “Menilmontant.” Phiro ably borrows her instructor’s instrument for “Les Amants d’un Jour” (Monnot/ Delecluse/Senlis).
“L’Effet Que Tu Me Fais” (Heyral/Piaf): Do you really think we have a shot/At loving one another and being happy?…If I make you feel how you make me feel/Well, it’s true we give each other a strange little feeling…reads one translation. The artist rolls her shoulder, raises her brows, and flirts with Etkin.
Piaf signatures “La Vie en Rose” (Louiguy/Piaf) and “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien” (Dumont/ Vaucaire) close this evening. We all then rise to join in a rousing “La Marsaillese.” (Lyrics have been provided.)
Myriam Phiro has an attractive stage presence, grace, and a passion for Piaf. She needs an outside director, however. The meanings of these songs are too rarely conveyed. The show would also benefit from more translations.
Photos by Richard J. Velasco
Piaf at 100: The Solo Sparrow Show
Myriam Phiro – Vocalist/Director
Hyuna Park- Piano/Accordion, Elias Bailey-Upright Bass
Special Guest Oran Etkin- Clarinet
425 Lafayette Street in The Public Theater
July 14, 2019