Elaine Paige, Marilyn Maye, Vivian Reed, Gay Marshall and More Reflect on Edith Piaf

Diva Talk   Elaine Paige, Marilyn Maye, Vivian Reed, Gay Marshall and More Reflect on Edith Piaf Eight multi-talented vocalists share their thoughts about the enduring work of Edith Piaf, the late French chanteuse who gave us "La Vie en Rose."
Edith Piaf
Edith Piaf

On Dec. 19 at Manhattan's The Town Hall, a host of acclaimed vocalists will pay homage to the late Edith Piaf (1915-63), the French singer whose voice reverberated with the sounds of the joys, passions and many tragedies that filled her life. Those scheduled to be part of this tribute to the internationally renowned Little Sparrow, which is entitled Piaf: A Centennial Celebration, include Olivier-winning actress Elaine Paige, cabaret veteran Marilyn Maye, two-time Tony nominee Vivian Reed, Little Annie, international stage star Gay Marshall, Molly Pope, Amber Martin and Meow Meow. Backed by the 15-piece American Pops Orchestra, conducted by Luke Frazier, the evening will be hosted by Robert Osborne of Turner Classic Movies. Diva Talk asked the singers to reflect on the vocal icon:

Elaine Paige:

What about Edith Piaf's work resonates with you?
EP: What resonates for me about her work is the fact that a lot of her songs tell tragic stories; they echo the feelings and language of ordinary people. It was all about the voice and interpretation and the way she interpreted her songs with such passion — a haunting fusion of sound and emotion.

Why do you think her recordings have had such longevity?
EP: Her legacy of music is part of French culture. She sang of the human condition — love and loss — the things we can all relate to. She said and I agree, "If people want to know about me, they need only listen to my songs." Point being, if you're not a writer yourself, you have to choose songs that speak for you. 

What is your favorite Piaf song and why?
EP: It’s hard to name one, there are so many, but two of my favorite songs are "Je Ne Regrette Rien" and "Hymne a L’Amour (If You Love Me)." The latter she wrote as an homage to the great love of her life, Marcel Cerdan. I love singing it and will be performing that along with "Je Ne Regrette Rien" at The Town Hall.

Do you have any other upcoming projects you can discuss?
EP: I've just filmed a BBC-TV production of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream to be televised in the spring next year as part of the 400th Anniversary of his passing. And I've just released a DVD/CD of my 50th Anniversary concert from the Royal Albert Hall in London.

***

Molly Pope:

What about Edith Piaf's work resonates with you?
MP: Big emotions. Fully committed and without apology.

Why do you think her recordings have had such longevity?
MP: Her sound is wholly distinct. Her voice communicates things we don't know how to articulate. Sometimes literally. You don't need to speak French to know exactly what she's singing and how she feels about it. She taps into a universality of human experience.

What is your favorite Piaf song and why?
MP: "Milord." It's jaunty, it's infectious, and it's got a dramatic monologue, several tempo changes and a very forthright protagonist.

What is one of the songs you will be performing at Town Hall?
MP: "Milord."

Do you have any other upcoming projects you can discuss?
MP: Yeah! I'm making a live album! Everyone is invited! An Audience with Molly Pope — Jan. 20 and 27 at Joe's Pub. This is my very first album. It's all very exciting. And, yes, there will be bongos.

***

Marilyn Maye:

What about Edith Piaf's work resonates with you?
MM: She sang from the heart!

What is your favorite Piaf song and why?
MM: "No Regrets"

What is one of the songs you will be performing at Town Hall?
MM: "I Love Paris" and "C'est Magnifique." The first Broadway show production I performed was Can-Can at Starlight Theater, Kansas City (9,000 seats). I performed the part of Pistache and loved singing "C'est Magnifique" each night.

Do you have any other upcoming projects you can discuss?
MM: Yes, New Year's Eve and five more nights at the Metropolitan Room in NYC. Also, engagements in California and Florida, Joe's Pub in NYC in February and eight performances at Feinstein's/54 Below in April.  My ongoing project is "The Art of Performance," which is master classes and private coaching.  Plus, creating and directing acts for future club performances in New York, Florida and California.

Marilyn Maye
Marilyn Maye

***

Vivian Reed:

What about Edith Piaf's work resonates with you?
VR: I love listening to her because she lives inside of the lyrics of each song that she sings, and she is very dramatic, which is one of the reasons I like her music. 

Why do you think her recordings have had such longevity?
VR: Because each and every song she recorded she did with all her heart and soul — her authenticity lives on through her recordings.

What is your favorite Piaf song and why?
VR: I like the very dramatic songs — to pick one is difficult — maybe "Hymn to Love," a song she recorded right after she lost the love of her life in a plane crash.

What is one of the songs you will be performing at Town Hall?
VR: "Mon Dieu," one of her most well-known songs. It's a prayer.

Do you have any other upcoming projects you can discuss?
VR: A new show next year called Standards and More at the Metropolitan Room, and an album.

Vivian Reed
Vivian Reed

***

Gay Marshall:

What about Edith Piaf's work resonates with you?
GM: If you mean why I became obsessed with her, it is her passion, her artistry, her single-mindedness. That she had no rules. That she had uncontrollable fears and immense courage. That she was a force of nature. That she was irrepressible. Unreasonable. Kind. Generous. Uncompromising. Funny. Reading the story of her life was inspiring and devastating. Hearing stories from people who knew and worked with her confirmed what the book related: She was an artist, a mentor, a benefactress, a tyrant, a child, a survivor and an utter romantic. Discovering her changed my life.

Why do you think her recordings have had such longevity?
GM: When I finally heard her sing, I didn't need to understand the words. I was mesmerized by the force of emotion and expression in her voice. Listening to Piaf sing a song is like seeing a full-length movie in three minutes. You see everyone; you feel what they feel, and it can bring you to tears or joyfully to your feet applauding all alone in your apartment. She's a great actress. Whether the story is sexy and languorous à la "l'Effet Que Tu Me Fais" or destroyed and defeated à la "La Belle Histoire d'Amour," or simply exuberant à la "La Vie En Rose," you believe she's experienced everything she sings about. Even the melodrama is real — straight from her gut to your heart! She said I have to sing. If I can't sing, I'll die. I feel that in every note.

What is your favorite Piaf song and why?
GM: Ooh, tough one. No, really. There are some lesser-known ones that I absolutely love. One of those is "Elle Fréquentait la Rue Pigalle." Written by Raymond Asso, her first mentor, and Marguerite Monnot, of Irma La Douce fame — two hugely important friends and collaborators of hers — it's the story of a lady of the night who walks the streets of Pigalle. Unexpectedly, a client compliments her and invites her to run away with him. Euphoric at the idea her life could change, she goes. But seeing her by daylight changes his mind, and his rejection destroys the very light in her blue eyes. These five short verses take you from hope to despair on a melody of luxurious melancholy. It's perfection. And you don't have to be a streetwalker to relate to being heartbroken!

What is one of the songs you will be performing at Town Hall?
GM: "L'Accordéoniste" by Michel Emer, who famously went AWOL to present her with his song during WWII. She loved it so much they worked together on it all day and night, and she put it in her concert that week.

Do you have any other upcoming projects you can discuss?
GM: I'll be reviving my Piaf show in the spring, and the day after this incredible event at Town Hall, I’m singing in Denise Spann Morgan's Soulful Christmas Show at the Metropolitan Room.

***

Amber Martin:

What about Edith Piaf's work resonates with you?
AM: As a vocalist, I am consistently captured by this petite earthly treasure. I love that she penned or co-wrote so many of her songs. There is a strength in her sadness. A rough and tough street kid sensibility in her every note, yet she is all woman. She has this beautiful purr... There is a yearning in her voice that pierces me. She was such a little tiny thing with a voice, I imagine, bigger than sound. I only listen to her on vintage LP's on my battery-operated record player, so I can just imagine how clear and belting she was live, in a cabaret theater. I was barely a possibility when she left. Had I known her, I believe she was most alive when singing. I find mesmerizing places when I am singing that transport me to some place else. Singing is like a head and heart high. I think that is something she and I would have been able to gab about with each other. 

Why do you think her recordings have had such longevity?
AM: Well, perhaps I began answering that in the first question without knowing...such a big voice. She loved to sing. It seems to me it was her purpose in living. Her talent essentially saved her very life from the poor, dark streets of Paris. She was most alive when relating to her audience in song. People of all ages and nationalities can translate that.

Amber Martin
Amber Martin

What is your favorite Piaf song and why?
AM: Honestly, I love most all Piaf. I am aware that many will likely have the same answer, but my most truly favorite song of hers is "Non Je Ne Regrette Rien"... "No Regrets."

What is one of the songs you will be performing at Town Hall?
AM: "Cause I Love You," one of her purely frivolous and sweet ones. It reminds me of what it felt like to be newly in love with love... I want that feeling every day. Plus, I love Edith's vocals in the song. Strong and steady. I'm singing it for Edith, as though she were standing right in front of me.

Do you have any other upcoming projects you can discuss?
AM: Always. My website is the best way to follow my antics (AmberMartin.org). I encourage everyone to visit me there, where you can find a link to my YouTube page for a trip through my quite diverse video gallery and also contact me! Hey, I'm an artist trying to live and work right in the East Village, NYC. You know, we've got to hustle... Amber Martin: On Your Table … is my new artist residency at Pangea. The darling Brett Every is playing with me. We are introducing some of his original songs, written with me in mind for singing. I'll also be entertaining some memories from the days of my lives along with some great songs that spatter throughout the 70s and 80s. Fun for everyone.

***

Meow Meow:

What about Edith Piaf's work resonates with you?
MM: There's dancing in her music. You feel the rhythm of the life force passing through her in every note. She's totally connected to herself, her musicians, her stories, her listeners. That tiny body emanating so much passion and joy and STORY. It's comforting in a strange way, the hope in her. We all know those images of her feet planted so firmly at a microphone in front of a massive curtain — this miraculous little figure with the life force emanating so strongly from the heart to the audience. And there is mischief in her, too! Her conviction in the necessity and mystery of love and the fact that it seems clear that for her singing is breathing is loving, and nothing is without passion. That resonates entirely for me.

What is your favorite Piaf song and why?
MM: "La Belle Histoire D'amour." The sweetness of the past and the pain of the present are in a beautiful tug of war in the piece. It is high drama and aching longing for love gone. Desperate, declamatory passion mixed with terrible, exquisite, aching longing that never resolves. Piaf's voice is almost terrifying in her conviction that love will come back — it WILL come back and carry her away. I love this piece so much. “Mon Legionnaire” is also a devastating favorite.

Meow Meow
Meow Meow

What is one of the songs you will be performing at Town Hall?
MM: Possibly this one, or possibly one of the French pieces I have written with Thomas M Lauderdale of Pink Martini, to shift the colors of the evening a little. Piaf's longing for love imbues everything in a way.

Do you have any other upcoming projects you can discuss?
MM: I could discuss myself and my projects endlessly, of course, but surely you have a word limit? Upcoming are some quite thrilling performances of In Descent subversive German repertoire with the San Francisco Symphony, Oregon Symphony and then a premiere and festival tour of Meow Meow's Little Mermaid, the second in my "little" fairytale trilogy — a dance/music theatre piece for the Sydney Festival and Malthouse Theatre; a song cycle orchestral commission on the ghosts of the oldest theatre in Australia, the Theatre Royal; and Tanglewood in a program of lost and banned Weimar works with the brilliant Barry Humphries and the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Something incredibly exciting with a magnificent London orchestra that I can't quite announce yet! Stay tuned! Or peruse MeowMeowRevolution.com.

***

Little Annie:

What about Edith Piaf's work resonates with you?
LA: Honesty and heart. The timbre of her life resonated the timbre of her voice. I bet she was a lousy poker player. Truth crosses boundaries of language and time, and even self-mythology.

Why do you think her recordings have had such longevity?
LA: Ain't nothing like the real thing. And real is forever.

What is your favorite Piaf song and why?
LA: "Milord." I worked in those places. She captures the hustle and heart and the hurt of both worker and customer. The masks come down for a moment, which ain't 'spose' to happen in an illusion palace. And how she sings the line "ombre de la rue" — brilliant and painful.

What is one of the songs you will be performing at Town Hall?
LA: "Autumn Leaves."

Do you have any other upcoming projects you can discuss?
LA: My next album "Trace" comes out in winter 2016 on Tin Angel Records, and I will resume touring then. There are some other pots on the fire, but discretion is the better art of glamour.

Little Annie
Little Annie

***

Produced by Daniel Nardicio and Andy Brattain, the evening will also feature Kim David Smith and Aaron Weinstein. The Town Hall is located at 123 West 43rd Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues in New York. Tickets, which range from $55 to $200, are available at Piaf100.com.

**

Well, that's all for now. Happy diva-watching! E-mail questions or comments to agans@playbill.com.

Senior editor Andrew Gans also pens the weekly Their Favorite Things.

Today’s Most Popular News: