Piaf, ‘The Little Sparrow,’ returns 

Naomi Emmerson had never heard of the inimitable French chanteuse Edith Piaf when director Roger Peace asked her to impersonate the star in a 1993 Broadway tribute.

Although the performance was a success, Emmerson dropped the role until 2004. Then, at the age of 31, she decided to challenge herself by again entering into Piaf’s world as director and producer of the show, “Piaf: Love Conquers All.”

“Piaf and I click vocally,” she explained by phone. “I am completely drawn in by the music and the quality of her voice, and how her voice tells the story. The show follows the lyrics and her story telling. Her topics are about prostitution and men beating up their women and being destitute on the street. It’s exactly what I’m experiencing on the corner of Market and Seventh, which is where I’m staying while we prepare to open on July 7 at the Eureka Theatre.”

Emmerson began producing the show in 2005, when it was a smash at the Toronto Fringe Festival. Then she scored so big at the New York City Fringe Festival that she moved to off-Broadway.

Now, with Alan Choy at the piano, she brings her acclaimed interpretation of 14 of Piaf’s most notable songs, interspersed with stories about Piaf’s love of music, men and morphine, to San Francisco.

“The show’s legs keep walking,” she says with excitement. “I know I’m not the first to play Piaf. But what’s different about this show is that it’s not cabaret. It’s a one-woman dramatic play, in which songs mesh seamlessly with dialogue. If you don’t understand the French, you still get what’s going on. And if you’re a Piaf fan, you get to relive the greats and the not-so-greats.”

Among the more obscure Piaf songs Emmerson sings is “Les Blue Blanche.” Almost operatic in its scope, Piaf performed it only once live, at a performance that was recorded.

Another rarity is “Bravo Pour le Clown,” made more poignant by its connection with the period in which Piaf was down and out with drug addiction.

The show begins when “The Little Sparrow,” as she was known later in life, was 37 and in love with world champion boxer Marcel Cerdan.

Cerdan’s death in a plane crash marked the beginning of Piaf’s downward spiral to her death 11 years later. But through it all, her love of love and music predominated.

And the music, which Emmerson considers an extension of the French art song in its mix of emotional directness and melodic complexity, is what continues to transport us almost 47 years after Piaf’s premature death.


IF YOU GO

Piaf: Love Conquers All

Where: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson St., San Francisco

When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturdays; closes Aug. 7

Tickets: $25 to $36

Contact: (800) 838-3006; www.tonepoetproductions.com

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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