Piaf/Dietrich tells the story of two profoundly influential and controversial figures who made their mark on the world starting in the 1930’s. Piaf, the little sparrow, was discovered singing on the streets, became a cabaret singer, and before long dominated the Paris music scene and became an international sensation. Marlene Dietrich was an academy award nominated silver screen star, gender bending at a time when such behaviour was risky and was rumoured to have had hundreds of lovers. The two were briefly intimate, later becoming long-time friends.
I was transported to Europe as soon as I walked into the CAA theatre. Michael Gianfrancesco’s set is perfection. It’s a sexy cabaret parlour with a small number of audience members seated on raised platforms on the stage as well as tables that have been set up at the front. The tables are lit with dainty table lamps with a large chandelier coming down from the rafters.
The set has two levels with a halo of lights surrounding the upper platform. This was used to great effect a few times in the show, when both singers were on stage, one on the top of the stairs and the other at the bottom. The walls of the theatre are plastered with show bills and posters. One side is dedicated to Piaf and the other to Dietrich. Later, the stage is lit with a giant marquee style sign with both names lit up. It’s truly a gorgeous set.
The costumes created by Louise Bourret also should be celebrated. Piaf usually dressed all in black, so creativity was limited there but Bourret pulled out all the stops with Dietrich’s outfits, bringing all the grandeur and glitz of that era. There were sparkles, furs, form fitting dresses and neatly tailored slacks. Bourret captured the style of that time magnificently.
Daniel Grobe Boyman and Thomas Kahry did a wonderful job at telling this fascinating story about two complicated women, celebrating the joys of performing and the pathos of their challenging personal struggles. Much of the story was sourced from texts and letters about the two women’s little-known friendship. Erin Shields and director Gordon Greenberg helped adapt the current script which had a run in Montreal in 2018.
Jayne Lewis plays Dietrich and that is a difficult task. Dietrich was never entirely herself in interviews and possibly in her life. Everything was a performance, each move or statement rehearsed. She was extremely particular at how she was viewed by the world. So there was a certain disconnect for me with that character. I wasn’t drawn in the same way I was with the Piaf character.
Louise Pitre as Piaf is extraordinary. Her performance was heartbreaking, the songs filled with emotion and intensity. It was profoundly moving. She captured the je ne sais quoi that was Piaf. I believed her entirely to be this French powerhouse struggling with addiction and chronic pain. It completely did me in when she sang Non, je ne regretted rien and the lights shone through her white gown showing what looked like a frail, broken body that slowly faded off the stage.
This show is sexy, intense and riveting. Come be transported to the simpler times of 30’s and learn about this fascinating friendship.
PIAF/DIETRICH, A Legendary Affair runs September 17 – December 8, 2019 at the CAA THEATRE, 651 Yonge Street
Tickets range from $39 to $129 and are available exclusively through www.mirvish.com or by phone through TicketKing 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333
Cover photo: Jayne Lewis as Marlene Dietrich and Louise Pitre as Edith Piaf in Piaf/Dietrich — A Legendary Affair. All photos by Cylla Von Tiedemann