"Sparrow's sublime voice sadly strangled."
by remotegoat reviewer for remotegoat on 15/11/11

With Edith Piaf, there is always the question hanging: if one takes away the songs, is there anything left of the singer? The cliched question of whether one can separate the artist from the art is particularly apt in her case. Piaf's life, and her performances, were everything that her songs were; conveying all the desires and despair of her tragic, short life. Which is why it will always be a tough call to re-enact her story.

All Star Productions makes a brave stab at portraying her extraordinary life in just under two hours. Pam Gem's script certainly speeds us through it, but in trying to cram too much in, it loses a lot of detail, and it is difficult to keep track of who the peripheral characters all are.

The production opens with a kind of overture of the musical themes of Piaf's career. This would have been better served up as a pre-show while the audience gathers. For a musical, it is an odd choice to begin with silence, particularly as the lone pianist is already in place, sitting centre stage at the baby-grand, looking a little uncomfortable. (Another curious choice of director, Dawn Kalani Cowle's, was to have the cellist hidden behind a back-drop.)

Lisa Baird, as Piaf, is miscast. She lacks the emotional fragility and strength needed for the character. But when the music begins all is forgiven. Her singing voice is, quite simply, superb. Particularly during highlights such as "Mon Dieu" and "Hymn To Love" where she is a thrill to watch. It is pretty much a one woman show, which is just as well, as the characters that drift in and out of her life are barely given enough substance to support her delicate frame. With acting almost as wooden as Piaf's crutches, we merely wish for the next musical number.

But if one blanks out the talking (it did come across as "Piaf" down at the 'Queen Vic'), you're in for a real treat. Aaron Clingham, the musical director and pianist, and Maria Rodriguez Reina on cello weave some musical magic. Coupled with Baird's voice this magic, like the music notes, is sustained long enough to carry us to the next song. The emotional impact is aided too by Sky Bembury's evocative lighting, but hindered slightly by Mike Lees' dull design, with costumes that seem cobbled together from various fringe cast-offs.

A bit off the beaten track, it is worth the trek for Lisa Baird's renditions of the songs of 'La Môme Piaf'. But sadly this little sparrow is strangled by a sub-standard show. There is always the question hanging: if one takes away the songs, is there anything left of the play?

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