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Piaf (USA) (1981)

Piaf (USA)


A play by Pam Gems, performed at the Forrest Theatre, Philadelphia (9-24 January 1981), and Plymouth Theatre, New York (5 February - 28 June 1981).


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


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'.


David Leary ... Emcee / Manager, also known as Henri

Jane Lapotaire ... Piaf

Peter Friedman ... 'Papa' Leplee, owner of Cluny Club

Zoë Wanamaker ... Toine

Nicholas Woodeson ... Emil, maitre d' at Cluny Club

Stephen Davies ... Legionnaire

Lewis Arlt ... Jacques, a thug

Robert Christian ... Eddie, a thug

Michael Ayr ... Little Louis, a thug

Kenneth Welsh ... Police Inspector

David Purdham ... Paul, man with rose

Lewis Arlt ... German Soldier #1

Michael Ayr ... German Soldier #2

Kenneth Welsh ... Georges

Robert Christian ... Butcher

Stephen Davies ... Pierre, on bicycle; later, Piaf's agent

Jean Smart ... Marlene

Robert Christian ... Marcel

David Purdham ... American Sailor #1

Peter Friedman ... American Sailor #2

Robert Christian ... Barman

Judith Ivey ... Madeleine

Michael Ayr ... Lucien

Lewis Arlt ... Angelo

Kenneth Welsh ... Physiotherapist

Nicholas Woodeson ... Jacko

Michael Ayr ... Dope pusher

Sherry Steiner ... Nurse

David Purdham ... Theo


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)


For Zoë, 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 Zoë 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, Zoë 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 Zoë 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.  Zoë 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 Zoë 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

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


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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