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French musical based on Edith Piaf revives sweet memories for Chinese audiences

By CHEN NAN | China Daily | Updated: 2019-08-10 11:17

When French actress Sophie Marceau appeared as part of China Central Television's traditional annual gala in 2014, she performed La Vie En Rose along with Chinese veteran singer-songwriter Liu Huan, for more than a billion viewers.

The song by French singer Edith Piaf (1915-63), which was released as a single in 1947, then became popular with the Chinese.

Now, a French musical, entitled Piaf! Le Spectacle, which focuses on the life and career of the French singer, is touring Chinese cities with 47 shows, enabling Chinese audiences to enjoy the song again.

"I've learned that Chinese audiences are very familiar with the song, La Vie En Rose, and with the musical, we want to introduce the story behind the song," says Gil Marsalla, the director of the musical, speaking in Beijing before the musical kicked off its tour in the capital from July 31 to Aug 11 at Tianqiao Performing Arts Center.

"Piaf began her career singing in the streets and small bars before she went to Carnegie Hall in New York. She is regarded as France's greatest popular singer and her singing reflected her life," says Marsalla.

The musical features over 20 of the singer's hits, including La Vie En Rose, Milord, and Where Have All The Flowers Gone.

Born in Belleville, Paris, Piaf was abandoned by her mother, who was a cafe singer, at very young age. She then lived with her grandmother, who ran a brothel.

At the age of 11, she joined her father, who was a street acrobat, and traveled to Belgium, becoming a street singer.

In 1935, Piaf performed in a club off the Champs-Elysees and soon gained popularity. And in April 1963, Piaf recorded her last song. She died at the age of 47 from liver failure.

The musical, starring French singer-actresses Anne Carrere and Nathalie Lermitte, both playing the role of Piaf, premiered in 2015 and has been staged more than 300 times in France, Britain and the United States.

In 2017, the 90-minute musical was presented at Carnegie Hall on the 60th anniversary of Piaf's last performance at the famous venue.

"The musical was inspired by the award-winning movie, La Vie En Rose. To produce the musical, we visited people who knew Piaf and had them narrate the rags-to-riches story of the singer," the director says.

The director first met singer-actress Anne Carrere in 2014 when she auditioned for another of his productions, titled Paris! The Show. Impressed by her performance, Marsalla offered Carrere the role of Piaf.

Speaking about her role, Carrere, who is hailed as "Edith Piaf's legitimate musical heiress", says: "I am drawn to Edith Piaf and her music because each of her songs has its own story.

"Her music is timeless and I was inspired by her life story.

"The director has a clear vision for the show and I just let myself fulfill his vision," she adds.

After Beijing, the musical will tour other Chinese cities, including Xiamen, Fujiang province and Foshan, Guangdong province.

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