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Piaf (USA) (1981)

Piaf (USA)

A play by Pam Gems, performed at the Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia, with its opening night on 8 January 1981; transferred to the Plymouth Theatre (now known as the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre), New York: 5 February (previews began 28 January) - 28 June 1981.


Photos


Piaf (USA) image #1Piaf (USA) image #2Piaf (USA) image #3Piaf (USA) image #4Piaf (USA) image #5Piaf (USA) image #6Piaf (USA) image #7


The first and second photos show Jane Lapotaire and Zoe Wanamaker during the period in which Piaf was performed.  The third photo shows Piaf (played by Jane Lapotaire) and Toine (Zoe Wanamaker).  The fourth shows Toine.  The fifth shows Piaf, the Legionnaire (Stephen Davies), and Toine.  The sixth and seventh show Piaf and Toine.

With thanks to Kerrie for some of these photos.

Overview

This was the premiere US production of Piaf, which examines the life of legendary French singer Edith Piaf, from the late 1920s until 1963 (the year in which the singer died).  Far from being a glamorous potrait of the star, the biodrama offers an unflinching exploration of the tension between Piaf's private and public life, particularly in the light of the singer's working-class roots.

To underscore Piaf's humble origins for English-speaking audiences, the singer and her friends spoke with Cockney accents; songs were delivered in a mixture of English and French.  The staging was suitably spartan, with little more than a couple of chairs. 

Among the songs performed during the play: 'La Belle Histoire d'Amour', 'La Ville Inconnue', 'L'Accordeonist', 'Deep in the Heart of Texas', 'Mon Dieu', 'Les Trois Cloches', 'Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien', 'Bravo Pour Le Clown', 'La Goulante du Pauvre Jean', 'Je T'ai Dans le Peau', 'La Vie En Rose', 'Milord', 'Hymne a L'Amour', and 'A Quoi Ca Sert l'Amour'.

Cast

Emcee/Manager, also known as Henri ... David Leary
Piaf ... Jane Lapotaire
'Papa' Leplee, owner of Cluny Club ... Peter Friedman
Toine ... ZoŽ Wanamaker
Emil, maitre d' at Cluny Club ... Nicholas Woodeson
Legionnaire ... Stephen Davies
Jacques, a thug ... Lewis Arlt
Eddie, a thug ... Robert Christian
Little Louis, a thug ... Michael Ayr
Police Inspector ... Kenneth Welsh
Paul, man with rose ... David Purdham
German Soldier #1 ... Lewis Arlt
German Soldier #2 ... Michael Ayr
Georges ... Kenneth Welsh
Butcher ... Robert Christian
Pierre, on bicycle; later, Piaf's agent ... Stephen Davies
Marlene ... Jean Smart
Marcel ... Robert Christian
American Sailor #1 ... David Purdham
American Sailor #2 ... Peter Friedman
Barman ... Robert Christian
Madeleine ... Judith Ivey
Lucien ... Michael Ayr
Angelo ... Lewis Arlt
Physiotherapist ... Kenneth Welsh
Jacko ... Nicholas Woodeson
Dope pusher ... Michael Ayr
Nurse ... Sherry Steiner
Theo ... David Purdham

For Wednesday matinee performances, the following cast changes were made: Judith Ivey (Piaf), Sherry Steiner (Madeleine), Cynthia Carle (Nurse).

Crew

Director: Howard Davies
Set Designer: David Jenkins
Costume Designer: Julie Weiss
Lighting Designer: Beverly Emmons
Musical Direction and Arrangements: Michael Dansicker
Assistant Director: Helaine Head
Production Photographer: Martha Swope
Musicians: Michael Dansicker (piano), Charles Sauss (accordion), and Ray Kilday (bass)

Notes

For ZoŽ, this production marks a turning point in her career: 'I was doing Piaf with Jane Lapotaire, and I never knew what to do with my hands.  Suddenly I realised I wasn't thinking about my hands.  I was thinking about who the person was, and that for me was a great feeling of achievement - something as stupid and as simple as that' (see 'So Many Different Characters' interview).

She and Jane Lapotaire are the only cast members to appear in both the UK and the US productions of Piaf; each made her Broadway debut in the play.  They were joined in the US by director Howard Davies, who had also directed the UK staging of Piaf.  Jane Lapotaire has remarked in an interview for WhatsOnStage.com that a very positive mood pervaded among the cast and crew.

Introducing ZoŽ to American theatregoers, the Plymouth Theatre playbill notes that she 'is well known in England for her numerous and varied stage performances'.  Although she had not appeared on stage in the US before Piaf, ZoŽ was certainly no stranger to the area in which the production was performed, since New York is her birthplace.  Piaf, in her words, 'was my first introduction to playing in my home town' (the remark came in a Broadway.com interview, which is no longer online). 

The production helped ZoŽ to establish herself as a performer in the US.  She was nominated for both the Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play Tony Award and Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play Drama Desk Award.  ZoŽ has kindly provided a photo of herself, with Jane Lapotaire, Elizabeth Taylor, and Glenda Jackson, celebrating their Tony Award nominations.

Interviewed for The Times, Tim Curry recalls performing on Broadway during the early 1980s and having 'a Damascus moment when Ian [McKellen] and I spent New Year's Eve with Jane Lapotaire and ZoŽ Wanamaker, who were doing Piaf next door.  I found myself defending Ronald Reagan and I thought, ''You've been here too long.'''

The US production of Piaf was adapted for TV and broadcast in 1982.  The programme was subsequently released on video (now a very rare item).

Zoe has since returned to Broadway for Loot (1986), Made in Bangkok (1988), Electra (1998), and Awake and Sing! (2006).

Press coverage

ZoŽ 'is a perfect foil for Lapotaire, and their scenes together are wickedly droll', commented T.E. Kalem in TIME.

Merchandise

Piaf NTSC video (recording of the TV broadcast)

Piaf by Pam Gems

Related links

Piaf production photo - Rex Features

Jane Lapotaire performs as Piaf at the Tony Awards - BlueGobo (video)

American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1969-2000 by Thomas S Hischak and Gerald Martin Bordman - Google Books (extract about Piaf's reception in the USA)

Piaf (Plymouth Theatre) production information - Internet Broadway Database (IBDB)

Piaf (Plymouth Theatre) production information - Internet Theatre Database (ITDb)


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