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Edith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies, World Premiere at Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma CA

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Edith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies, World Premiere
at Cinnabar Theater, Petaluma CA

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo
Members, San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle

Triumph of a Sparrow

It’s the ultimate rags-to-riches story, from the streets of Paris to Carnegie Hall and beyond, the urchin who became a legend in her own time, a delicate sparrow-girl with a roaring, passionate voice. ”Edith Piaf: Beneath Paris Skies” in its world premiere at Cinnabar, is a stunning, beautifully realized cabaret-style production. Created by Valentina Osinski and Michael Van Why, it’s a truly unique revelation of la Piaf’s stormy soul.

Piaf wrote many of her own lyrics to songs that became classics, the result of a lifelong collaboration with songwriter and composer Marguerite Monnot. Born Edith Gassion, she soon picked up the nickname “piaf”, French slang for sparrow, due to her tiny frame and jaunty spirit. She soared to fame during and after World War II. Raw and sensitive, vulgar and elegant, she was a study in contrasts and adored by millions the world over.

Julia Hathaway, Kevin Singer“Beneath Paris Skies” captures Piaf’s short, tempest-tossed life through distinct personas performed by four talented singers: Julia Hathaway displays Piaf’s Romantic aspect, Kevin Singer offers her Traditional side, Osinski as the Reckless Piaf, and Van Why as her Jaded self. Rounding out the cast in a non-singing role is Melissa Weaver as Simone, Piaf’s devoted half-sister. It’s interesting that men were chosen to reveal certain parts of Piaf’s character, showing that her struggles and joys transcend gender. Each of the vocalists, and Weaver, is nothing less than sublime. Together, as an ensemble, they forge an emotional connection with the audience that remains unbroken long after the music is done. 

The inspiring, lively show unfolds in a series of musical vignettes. French lyrics to 20 of her best-loved songs have been adapted by Lauren Lundgren, who sought to reveal more of the truth behind the songs than previous translations. A band of five top-notch musicians (Al Haas, Robert Lunceford, Daniel Gianola-Norris, Jan Martinelli and John Shebalin) are on hand to provide quality accompaniment.  A pink rose turns up in nearly every scene, a metaphor for Piaf’s undying hope in love amid the ruins of her life.

Melissa Weaver, Valentina Osinski, Michael Van Why

Stage direction by Weaver is a brilliant, magical mix of high and low-tech, where a section of a stage platform can become a bed, and projected images can provide vivid illustration to the stories behind the songs. And what songs they are! Many are instantly recognizable: “Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien (No, I Regret Nothing)”, “Mon Manege a Moi (My Own Carousel)”, and the eternal standards “La Vie en Rose (Life in Pink)” and “Sous le Ciel de Paris (Beneath Paris Skies)”.

A woman whose life was ruled by her never-ending quest for love never quite found what she was looking for. But what she did find was worldwide acclaim, and a place in history and in the hearts of romantics everywhere. “Beneath Paris Skies” offers a rare glimpse into Piaf’s world, and into her heart.

Now through January 25 
(Just extended due to sell-out shows – hurry, tickets are going fast!)

8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays

2 p.m. Sundays

2:00 p.m. Saturday, January 17

Tickets: $25 to $35

Cinnabar Theater
3333 Petaluma Blvd North, Petaluma CA

707-763-8920 

Website: www.cinnabartheater.org

Photos by Eric Chazankin