International Stars Pay Tribute to Edith Piaf: Concert Review

Edith Piaf Tribute - H - 2013
The spirit of Piaf was beautifully channeled in this lavish tribute concert filmed for French television.

A gallery of artists including Harry Connick, Jr., Madeleine Peyroux and Duffy performed the songs of the legendary "Little Sparrow" in this tribute concert.

Edith Piaf would have been thrilled by the lavish tribute concert held at NYC’s Beacon Theatre Thursday night, marking both the 50th anniversary of her death and the American debut of Francofolies, France’s hugely popular annual musical festival. Featuring a gallery of well-known French singers as well as such international stars as Harry Connick, Jr., Madeleine Peyroux, Duffy and Angelique Kidjo, it well demonstrated the reasons for the legendary star’s enduring appeal.

The concert was filmed for a primetime special to be aired on France 2, a French public television channel.

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“Tonight’s going to be a crazy French night in New York,” we were promised at the beginning of the show. And indeed, with only a few exceptions all of the songs were performed in their original language. As the jovial M.C. Francois Xavier Demaison pointed out, “The songs of Edith Piaf are in French.”

Performing in front of a dramatic backdrop of Piaf’s name in large letters and a silhouette of “The Little Sparrow,” the singers channeled the intense emotionalism of the singer to varying degrees. Despite their often mournful nature, many of the songs were performed in a near celebratory fashion, with little of their original performer’s fragile vulnerability on display.

The most emotional moment came with the appearance of the elderly singer/songwriter Charles Dumont, who sang “Les amants” and “Les flonflons,” two songs he wrote especially for Piaf. His tenderly moving renditions inspired the evening’s sole standing.

Harry Connick Jr., assigned Piaf’s signature number, “La vie en rose,” sang it in French in a gently swinging jazz style, acknowledging the applause by saying “Merci beaucoup, bonsoir.”

 The highlights were many. Olivia Ruiz, accompanied only on accordion, sang a stark, gypsy-flavored version of “Milord.”  Jean Louis Aubert infused “Je t’ai dans la peau” with rock star swagger, including an electric guitar solo. Madeleine Peyroux belted out “Padam Padam with a powerful intensity. The big-voiced Beth Ditto barreled through “L’homme a la moto” like a freight train. Alex Hepburn recalled Janis Joplin with her bluesy, English language rendition of “Jezebel.” Angelique Kidjo added percussive yelps to “Johnny tu n’es pas un ange” that further emphasized the bigness of her voice. And Christophe Willem brought down the house with his striking “Mon Dieu,” with his tenor voice dramatically rising to falsetto for the song’s conclusion.

Clips of Piaf, including her appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and several home movies, were projected throughout the evening. Duffy’s rendition of “Hymn to Love” featured extensive footage of the singer with her lover Marcel Cerdan, the famous boxer who died tragically in a plane crash.  

Several of the performers seemed to directly channel Piaf’s unique style to excellent effect. Elodie Frege was the very model of a chanteuse with “Les amants d’un jour.” Camelia Jordana sang “L’hymne a l’amour” with a tremulous vulnerability. And Patricia Kass, who has made a specialty of singing Piaf’s songs, went all out with “La Belle histoire d’amour.” Wearing boxing gloves -- presumably in a nod to Cerdan -- she sang the song with a throbbing intensity, at one point dropping to her knees in theatrical fashion.  

The finale, as is usual for these types of events, featured all of the performers gathered onstage for an encore reprise of “La vie en rose” that ended the evening on a high note.

Set list

Nolwenn Leroy & Zaz—"La foule"

Harry Connick Jr.—"La vie en rose"

Olivia Ruiz—"Milord"

Madeleine Peyroux—"Padam Padam"

Jean Louis Aubert—"Je t’ai dans la peau"

Duffy—"Hymn to Love"

Christophe Willem—"Mon Dieu"

Nolwenn Leroy—"Je ne regrette rien"

Coeur de Pirate—"Mon manege a moi"

Zaz—"Dans ma rue"

Beth Ditto—"L’homme a la moto"

Elodie Frege—"Les amants d’un jour"

Patrick Fiori—"L’accordeoniste"

Charles Dumont—"Les amants"

Charles Dumont -- "Les flonflons"

Alex Hepburn—"Jezebel"

Emmanuel Moire—"Sous le ciel de Paris"

Patricia Kaas—"La belle histoire d’amour"

Camelia Jordana—"L’hymne a l’amour"

Angelique Kidjo—"Johnny tu n’es pas un ange"

Ensemble—"La vie en rose"