Cabaret review: Piaf, The Famous Spiegeltent

ThAT Charles Dumont, the man who composed Edith Piaf’s most famous song, flew into the Capital the other night to perform as part of Christine Bovill’s musical tribute to the legendary French songbird . . . well, that’s as ringing an endorsement of the show as it’s possible to get. *****


The Famous Spiegeltent

Star rating: * * * * *

Earlier this week, on learning that the 83-year-old would be joining her on stage, Bovill said: “I’m going to need some kind of breathing apparatus before I go on stage.”

Understandably, she was visibly overwhelmed by emotion when the man himself came on to huge roars from the sell-out crowd, but she managed to pull herself together to deliver a breathtaking rendition of Je Ne Regrette Rien (No Regrets), the song that Dumont gave Piaf to sing in 1960, and that would come to define the one they called ‘the Little Sparrow’ as well as make Dumont’s name as a songwriter.

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Another interesting point to note is that the pair were performing on the very same stage that Marlene Dietrich - Piaf’s bridesmaid - sang on in the 1930s.

Earlier in the evening, Bovill explained how her love affair with Piaf first began. It all started when she was a 14-year-old schoolgirl who hated her French class. A priest, who knew of her love for old jazz records, gave her a Piaf album and she now describes listening to that record as ‘the defining moment’ of her life. She went on to study French, became a singer and started to perform the songs of Piaf and Jacques Brel.

In her show, Bovill doesn’t attempt to live the character or mimic the majesty of Piaf’s otherworldly voice. There are few of the singer’s trademark gestures or mannerisms and, unlike Piaf, whose vocals had a hoarse, almost nasal tone, Bovill’s voice is a lot deeper and huskier.

Starting with her dramatic rise from uneducated Paris street urchin to star of international renown, Piaf’s life is the stuff of legend, and Bovill showed herself to be a great storyteller as she told us a little about her idol.

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The former teacher and jazz singer from Glasgow introduced each song with a brief explanation of its subject matter and roots, before giving note-perfect renditions of the classics Piaf is known for.

Highlights included the tragic love stories La Foule (The Crowd) and L’Accordeoniste (The Accordionist), as well as the odd lighter number such as Je N’en Connais Pas La Fin (The Merry-Go-Round).

After Bovill ended with that ridiculously good rendition of Je Ne Regrette Rien, the rapturous response of the crowd was no less than she deserved.

• Until August 25

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