Edith Piaf lives again in
Ma vie en rose and black
Claire Garand show at the Le Balcon honours France’s greatest female singer
By Byron Toben
Just as labour activist Joe Hill never died, being reincarnated often in song by Paul Robeson, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez, so iconic singer Edith Piaf has had numerous impersonations and tributes over the years since her death in 1963 at age 47.
I particularly loved Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard in the 2007 film La Vie en Rose. Here in Quebec, Claudette Dion, the oldest of Celine’s eight sisters, has frequently performed a Piaf show – I saw it once at the Rialto.
Others, such as Fabiola Toupin, sprinkle their repertoire with Piaf songs, along with Brel and Aznavour.
Now, appearing occasionally at the intimate Le Balcon, is the dynamic Claire Garand, channelling Piaf in her signature black dress, singing about twenty of the 200 plus songs she is known for, while relating her life.
Much of that life is known to us Piaf aficionados – abandoned by her mother, growing up in her grandmother’s brothel, assisting her father’s street performance acrobatics, warbling in the streets of Paris for centimes, finally being discovered by cabaret owners, being renamed la mome Piaf (the little- or waif-sparrow) and shortened to simply Edith Piaf.
Finally, the original Edith Giovanna Gassion’s career took off with the endorsement of the great French singer Maurice Chevalier.
… the dynamic Claire Garand, channelling Piaf in her signature black dress, singing about twenty of the 200 plus songs she is known for, while relating her life.
In the late 1930s and during the 40s and into the 50s she became one of the leading international stars in the world, along with Charlie Chaplin and Paul Robeson.
Alas, this success did not match the troubled love life of this diminutive dynamo – failed relationships, alcoholism and drug addiction, further complicated by three auto accidents. She finally found true love with French boxing champion Marcel Cerdan, only to have that evaporate when he perished in an airline crash on his way to join her in New York.
Ms. Garand was backed by keyboardist Guy Richer who also exhibited a fine singing voice in joining her in two duets during the show.
First half selections included Jezebel, Padam Padam and Johnny. She occasionally supplemented her singing with a harmonica.
The second half opened with the obligatory La vie en rose and ended, appropriately, with Non, je ne regrette rien, which ranks with Sinatra’s I Did It My Way as a career summary ballad.
Ms Garand also does a show about Dalida, the French sensation after Piaf, whose personal life was even more tragic. Keep a watch out for that one.
Also, the Segal Centre opens The Angel and the Sparrow on April 15 about the friendship between Piaf and Marlene Dietrich.
For the Le Balcon Cabaret-Music Hall schedule contact 514 528-9766 or visit lebalcon.ca
Byron Toben is the immediate past-president of the Montreal Press Club.