Spring is the season for l’amour! Birds, bees, flowers springing awake, and songs of love! Time to see life through rose colored glasses. Perhaps take your sweetheart on a romantic get-away! Search “most romantic cities” and Paris shows up on most lists. Most romantic songs from Paris? “La vie en rose” by Edith Piaf ranks right up there. No surprise, Piaf lived for love. “Without love there is no life,” actress Naomi Emmerson says in the musical drama Piaf: love Conquers All in which she portrays the French chanteuse. “She was an artist infamous for her love affairs earning front page news in the tabloids of her time.” Emmerson who has played this role over 200 times around the globe reflects that Piaf’s main purpose in life was to find that one “great love.” This does indeed seem to be reflected in some of her songs, but more of her songs, and the passion with which she sang them, are fueled by the pain and suffering of failed love. Piaf’s self-professed great love was found in 1948 in world boxing champion, Marcel Cerdan. Although the affair lasted only 18 months, their now published love letters, reflect the deep admiration and devotion they had regardless of Marcel being a married man with three kids. “I worshiped him like a God,” she states in her 1963 memoires My Life. “He changed my life.” But, Piaf, as she has said herself, was not destined to stay happy. This apocryphal love affair was cut short tragically when Cerdan’s plane went down in the Azores, leaving Piaf ruined. On the eve of the death announcement, Piaf honored her performance commitment at one of New York’s top music halls, The Versailles, much to the chagrin of her entourage. Her great love for Marcel had been inspiration for another of Piaf’s well known compositions, “Hymne à l’amour”. The song had been removed from the program that fateful night, but at the last moment she insisted on singing it declaring to her audience and to her anxious orchestra “…in memory of Marcel Cerdan. I sing only for him”. She never made it to the end of the song. She reportedly collapsed with grief. The curtain fell, not only on her performance, but on any future happiness and good health. Her long struggle with alcohol and drug addiction began. “You always drink to forget your failures…your suffering,” she says in her autobiography. When great artists suffer the pain caused by lost love, magic is born. We thank them for their love sacrifice, for through it we are given beautiful gifts of music. A Piaf et Marcel - Merci!
Putting together the show so quickly only allowed a few days of rehearsal with the musicians and stage manager. Good thing everyone is a pro and that I surprisingly remember most of the script and my blocking! The big, tiring element of mounting this show, being director and designer, is the tech! Hours of preparation and then of course, equipment rental, set and gear load-in, set-up, light hang, light focus, sound, light board programming, light cue building and on and on. Two days in a row we were at the theatre until 1am! And even on Opening night day I was building the last piece of the set. Ah, it's a glamorous life this self-producing thing! Calgon take me away...or rather, presenters with deep pockets and generous subscribers take this show on!
Yes, that's a 1972 Gran Torino pulling the trailer full of the set. The last time it did this was in 2008 when we went down to The Piccolo Spoleto Festival in South Carolina. We drove 19 hours straight from New York City.
Check out the whole #piafinlasvegas "Making of Piaf In Las Vegas" playlist on my youtube channel
Of course, this PR process started way back in October! Writing the press release, designing the graphic (branding) writing the "blurbs" and researching all the possible media outlets in a city I have never promoted in and in which I have only lived for 12 months! I spend weeks combing the internet, picking up physical print publications, googling for all the possible avenues for getting the word out, and all the key people to send the promo material to. The bi-monthlies, the monthlies, the weeklies the dailies! They all accept stuff on different schedules and plan way in advance sometimes when deciding to do a feature. Then the radio and TV! Sometimes a little more last minute. Anyway, any coverage is appreciated as it only costs my time and it is also really fun!
Radio interviews in this Video Diary were on the same day! Thankfully a day we were not rehearsing or tech-ing, but I stayed up much too late and the next day I was beat!
We were also invited to play on The Dennis Bono Show. It's a Las Vegas tradition. A show recorded LIVE to tape in front of an audience of about 500 people at The South Point Casino in Las Vegas! They were so warm with their applause and Angela Chan, Hubert Gall and my PR assistant Teresa Kidder were all able to be there with me. We performed Padam Padam and then had a little chat on the interview couch with Dennis. Also on the show that day was Earl Turner, Riva Rice, Colin Salter and Mary Callanan.
In April and May of the year 1940 Edith Piaf performed in a one act play written especially for her by Jean Cocteau at the Theatre des Bouffes-Parisiens. The play was called Le Bel Indifferent where Piaf is the only actor of two with any dialog. In fact, it is like one long monologue. The other actor, Piaf's character's boyfriend (the indifferent lover), played by her then real life off-stage lover, actor Paul Meurisse, has the simplest role to play in the stage drama. He spends the entire play in silence lying on the bed "reading" a newspaper. Eventually he gets up and leaves the apartment without saying a word Piaf. The silence drives Piaf's character crazy. His indifference infuriates her. She rants and raves and cries and screams but receives not one reaction. Oh, how close this was to real life for this stage couple! In Edith Piaf's autobiography "My Life" she talks about her relationship with Meurisse and how his blazé demeanor made her feel unloved. She would taunt him with terrible public outbursts of rage and jealousy just to solicit some kind of emotion. She admits she was not proud of these moments. Cocteau must have known the couple very well. His play could have served as a sort of couples therapy, but alas, it proved to be more of a crystal ball to imminent disaster.
When I first heard of the play, it was in a documentary about Piaf's life. There was a brief clip of the play. Piaf was brilliant, of course, and so was the set design. It looked like a 2-dimensional black and white illustration typical of the era. The kind you might see on the drafting table of an inker at Warner Brothers working out the background for a Road Runner episode. It was my inspiration for the set design for Piaf: Love Conquers All.
The first time I produced the show at the Fringe Festival in Toronto, I bought old pieces of furniture and props at the Goodwill and painted them white then added the black line accents. When I prepared for the tour of 2006, I made a little maquette of the set and handed it over to a very competent carpenter, and he made me a life sized version! That set traveled to New York, South Carolina, New Jersey, Montreal and Ottawa when I put it in storage. I think it is still there! When I did the show in the Philippines, I sent over detailed photos and measurements of the set and they built an entirely new one for the three shows I did there! Amazing! Who knows what the set pieces are being used for today!
When the show toured British Columbia, the photos were again sent to a very capable carpenter, Derek Emmerson, my dad! He had the added task of making the set pieces collapsible in order to cheaply ship them back to where I was living and then to anywhere else I may do the show in the future! And that future was San Francisco (the whole thing fit in the back of a Prius) and now Las Vegas! This past weekend I opened the boxes and assembled the furniture! Easy Peasy! Watch the process below!
What the original set looked like in Ottawa (left)
Naomi Emmerson star of Piaf Love Conquers All - the one woman musical about legendary French singer Edith Piaf. She has performed over 200 times for audiences across Canada and the USA and once in Indonesia. The set and costumes are also her creation. Naomi grew up in Montreal Quebec in an anglophone family. She went to French school from 2nd to 6th grade. She loves brie, baguettes and makes a mean crepe Nelson (apple,bacon,sharp cheddar and maple syrup)