Brilliant Performances in A Legendary Affair
The Grand Dames of Canadian theatre are together on stage in a captivating musical, both giving brilliant performances. The show is Piaf/Dietrich – A Legendary Affair and the noted leads are Louise Pitre and Jayne Lewis, both of whom inhabit their characters and bring to life the famous chanteuses.
The story begins in 1960 when both Edith Piaf and Marlene Dietrich are performing late in their careers. Piaf is sadly weakened by morphine and booze and can’t finish her song. Dietrich is back in her home country of Germany where her audience is upset with her for moving to America and siding against the Nazis. The women are in the midst of a battle royal saying how much they despise each other, although they were once close friends.
Then the scene flashes back to their first meeting and their friendship. Although rocky at times, their relationship endures. The story progresses to Piaf’s death in 1963.
Edith Piaf started her life as an impoverished street singer in France and eventually became popular worldwide. Marlene Dietrich was a German who, after starring in a film in her home country, became a popular Hollywood actress and singer. Dietrich, who was 14 years older than Piaf, used her fame to push Piaf’s career along. The story on stage includes their intimate encounter based on rumours that Dietrich was bisexual. It also touches on Piaf’s lost loves, her injuries and addictions, and on Dietrich’s failed relationship with her daughter.
Pitre and Lewis offer sublime performances. Pitre gives us a passionate Piaf while Lewis’s Dietrich is cool and composed. The contrast is stunning. Pitre demonstrates Piaf’s vulnerability when her heart is broken and only shows her passion when she is singing. Somehow, Pitre makes herself seem so tiny to match the diminutive Piaf. She is very convincing as the frail, ill Piaf. Lewis exudes Dietrich’s confidence and sex appeal, totally in control of most situations.
Together the two women sing the beautiful “La Vie en Rose”, Piaf’s signature song. Lewis sings the war time favourite “Lili Marlene” and Pitre brings the house down as Piaf with “Non, Je ne Regrette Rien”. These are just a few in the remarkable song list. Both sound very much like the women they are portraying with Pitre emanating Piaf’s rich vibrato.
Costumes also accentuate the contrast between the two. Piaf is dressed in her usual simple black dress while Dietrich appears in stunning whites and sparkling gowns. Piaf’s dark hair is tousled, while Dietrich’s blonde hair is always perfectly coiffed.
Each featured actor in the show plays several roles, supporting the two leads perfectly. Louise Camilleri plays Lena Horne and other characters, Réjean Cournoyer is Noel Coward and others, and W. Joseph Matheson (Louise Pitre’s husband) plays Burt Bacherach among others.
I was going to describe Pitre and Lewis as the Meryl Streeps of Canada, which I consider high praise. But both are more than Streep. While they can act, matching her tremendous talent, they are both better singers, and Piaf/Dietrich is the perfect medium for them to share their gifts. If you enjoy fascinating biographies together with powerful singing, then go see Piaf/Dietrich – A Legendary Affair. Pitre and Lewis make it well worthwhile.
Piaf/Dietrich continues with eight shows a week at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge St., Toronto, Ontario until (extended to) January 5 . Call TicketKing 416-872-1212 or 1-800-461-3333 or visit www.mirvish.com for tickets.
Photo: Jayne Lewis as Marlene Dietrich and Louise Pitre as Edith Piaf. Photo by Cylla Von Tiedemann.
Piaf/Dietrich – A Legendary Affair
By Daniel Grobe Boymann & Thomas Kahry
Adapted by Erin Shields
From the translation by Sam Madwar
Based on a concept by David Winterberg
Directed by Gordon Greenberg
Musical Direction by Jonathan Monro
Performed by Louise Pitre, Jayne Lewis, Louise Camilleri, Réjean Cournoyer, W. Joseph Matheson, Tracy Michailidis, Seana-Lee Wood. Mirvish Production
CAA Theatre, 651Yonge Street, Toronto
September 17, 2019 to January 5, 2020 (Extended)
Reviewed by Mary Alderson